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"Introite, nam et heic Dii suntl' 
Apud GelKum. 1 


Edited, with an Introduction, com- 
prising a Biographical Sketch of the 
Author, a Critical Analysis of the Poem, 
and an Account of the Relations 
between Leasing and Moses Mendelssohn 






Copyright, 1917, by 

New York 







"Welch tinjudtl 

Und der so ganz nur Jude tcheinen toiUl 






I. Genesis of the Poem 23 

II. Lessing and Mendelssohn 33 

III. Analysis of the Plot 75 

IV. The Characters 80 

V. The Parable of the Three Rings . . 93 


Act I 127 

Act II 176 

Act III 224 

Act IV 274 

Act V 319 




Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Frontispiece 

Moses Mendelssohn 33 

Lessing, Mendelssohn and Lavater at Chess . . 65 

Facsimile of Title-Page of the First Edition of 
"Nathan the Wise" 127 

Facsimile of a Page of the First Draft of the 
Poem 203 

Adolph von Sonnenthal 247 



It would seem to be almost superfluous to write 
a Foreword to the present edition of Lessing's im- 
mortal epic. It is so plainly a preachment, that its 
stirring emotional appeal should, in itself, suffice. How- 
ever, living at a time when at least one half of the 
civilized world is engaged in a war of extermination 
against the other half, and when the lofty ideals which 
Lessing and Mendelssohn strove to inculcate are in 
imminent danger of being swept aside in this vortex of 
passion and race antagonism, it behooves us to call 
attention, at the outset, to the masterful plea for 
intolerance and brotherhood which the poet makes in 
this vivid and picturesque drama. It is essentially a 
human document, with a message as vital and pur- 
poseful in these latter days as then, when the great 
Reformer strove to throw off the shackles of race 
pride, prejudice and religious fanaticism. Indeed, 
it might have been written for those of us, in the 
present day, who are still victims of stubborn soph- 
istry and whose patriotism is largely a compound 
of arrogance and unreasoning egotism. 

It is not for us to say who is responsible for this 

recrudescence of the savage instinct which has made 

itself felt for many decades and has flashed, like a 

flaming sword, dubiously guarding the gates to the 



pathway of peace. But it is a significant fact that 
the Berlin Congress of 1878, from which Disraeli 
brought back "peace with honor" after imposing 
his will upon all the delegates with regard to the 
political emancipation of the Jews in Roumania was, 
after all, a fruitless victory in the cause of civilization. 
Treaty obligations then, as now, were either altogether 
ignored or adroitly avoided, and the fate of "the little 
people" held in bondage still hangs in the balance. 

We have, to be sure, made great progress in the 
cause of human brotherhood: The establishment of 
the Hague Tribunal, with its gospel of arbitration, 
though perhaps more honored in the breach than in 
the observance, has brought us inevitably nearer to 
the ideal of universal brotherhood, preached by the 
prophets of Israel, and however calamitous for the 
human race the terrible ordeal may be through which 
the nations are passing, the struggle for mastery is so 
distinctly a tgst of the survival of what is best in our 
civilization, that it can not pass without leaving a 
blessing in its wake. Out of this holocaust must come 
a saner and sweeter humanity, and the realization 
that nation is linked to nation, not so much by ties 
of blood, a common tradition, a common language, and 
by other selfish considerations, but by the higher ideal 
of mutual responsibility and a sense of universal fel- 
J lowship. 

It is good to read the powerful lay-sermon which 
Lessing, that intrepid regenerator of the German 
spirit, preached from his stage-pulpit, just one hundred 
thirty-seven years ago. Seldom has such an utterance 


been heard from a literary chancel. Nor was his a 
voice in the wilderness. His enlightened example 
was followed by no less a man than Joseph II, Emperor 
of Austria, who established the poll tax and the Jews' 
Budget (1781), and issued a Patent of Tolerance 
(January 2, 1782), removing all restrictions from the 
Jews. This illustrious monarch is the author of the 
following sublime prayer, which one cannot read with- 
out a quickening of the pulse and a feeling of pro- 
found gratitude: 

"Eternal, incomprehensible Being! Thou art per- 
fect toleration and love. Thy sun shines for the Chris- 
tian as well as for the atheist. Thy rain fructifies the 
field of the erring as that of the orthodox; and the 
germ of every virtue lies in the hearts of both heathen 
and heretic. Thou teachest me thus, Eternal Being! 
toleration and love teachest me that diverse views 
do not deter Thee from being a beneficent Father to 
all people. And shall I, Thy creature, be less tolerant, 
not conceding that everyone of my subjects may wor- 
ship Thee in his own manner ? Shall I persecute those 
who think differently from me, and convert the erring 
by the sword? No, Omnipotent! with Thy love, all- 
embracing Being, I shall be far from doing so. I will 
resemble Thee as far as a creature can resemble Thee 
will be tolerant as Thou art! Henceforth be all in- 
tolerance in my country removed. Where is a religion 
that doth not teach the love of virtue and the abhor- 
rence of vice? Everybody shall, therefore, be tolerated 
by me. Let everyone worship Thee, incomprehensible 
Being! in the manner which seemeth to him best. Do 


errors of mind deserve banishment from society? Is 
severity, indeed, the means of winning the people; of 
converting the erring? Broken shall henceforth be the 
infamous fetters of intolerance! Instead of it, may 
the sweet bond of toleration and brotherly love unite 
forever ! Amen." 

As nobleness enkindles nobleness, it is but natural 
to find the same exalted sentiment voiced on behalf 
of Israel by a humble parish priest in Germany, who, 
in 1804, included this soulful plea in his "Prayer Book 
for Enlightened Catholic Christians": 

"Almighty, Everlasting God! I entreat Thee on 
behalf of a dispersed nation that has had to suffer 
much oppression and humiliation in days of yore. Ah ! 
the misery of these unhappy people seemed to many 
to be a triumph of the teachings of Jesus, and in order 
to make this victory more luminous, they magnified 
their misery and destroyed every vestige of civic and 
domestic happiness in this industrious race. 

"The religion of Jesus became hateful to them, be- 
cause not a few professors of the same were their 
perpetual and almost sworn enemies. Never shall 
such an unworthy and inimical pride of creed beguile 
and corrupt me! 

"Since, O my God, I have learned from Jesus that 
all men are brothers, I shall respect the human rights 
and privileges which they hold in common with me. 
Their very wretchedness and civic degradation shall 
imbue me, at all times, with the most lively desire to 
comfort them, to mitigate their sorrows, and to uplift 
them from the stupefying blow of their erstwhile de- 


struction by the sympathy which I cherish for their 
destiny. Amen." 

How fortunate for the human race that God never 
leaves Himself without a witness and that, in moments 
of great stress, some high-minded leader is found to 
champion the cause of righteousness ! 

Is it too much to hope that the blood which is now 
so generously spilt on the battlefields of Europe will 
wash away the guilt of race-pride and prejudice ; ob- 
literate the dark memories of German anti-semitism ; 
of the Dreyfus scandal, and of the nameless horrors 
of the Russian pogroms, which are still a blot on the 
escutcheon of our common humanity? 

The version of "Nathan the Wise" here printed, 
follows the text of Major-General Patrick Maxwell, 
published in The Scott Library series by Walter 
Scott, in London. It is esteemed to be the most ac- 
curate of all existing English translations, although 
perhaps not quite so graceful and elastic in style as 
Miss Ellen Frothingham's rendering (New York, 
1867 ; reprinted in G. A. Kohut's "Hebrew Anthology," 
Cincinnati, 1913, Volume II). Like many of Les- 
sing's dramas and comedies, it has been translated 
into Hebrew and Judaeo-German, proving that his 
popularity with the Jews is on a par with that of 

The illustrations in the volume include excellent 
portraits of Lessing and Mendelssohn; a likeness of 
the celebrated Austrian actor, Adolph von Sonnenthal, 


in his character of Nathan, which has made him world- 
famous; and a reproduction from an old drawing, 
showing Lessing and Lavater at chess with their mu- 
tual friend, the celebrated Jewish philosopher, Moses 

The facsimile of the original title page, as well as 
of a leaf of the author's first draught of the poem, in 
possession of a member of the Mendelssohn family 
in Berlin, should prove of considerable interest to the 
book-lover and antiquarian. 

New York, November 8, 1916. 


January 22, 1729, at Camenz, in Upper Lusatia, and 
died at Brunswick, February 15, 1781. 

He comes of a line of learned ancestors. For many 
generations, his family had been one of jurists, curates 
and burgo-masters. His father was a clergyman and 
his mother a pastor's daughter. His earliest known 
progenitor, likewise a curate, was one of the signers of 
the formula concordiae, published in 1580, which was 
designed to harmonize certain doctrinal dissensions. It 
is significant that he derived his liberal views by 
heredity, for we find that his grandfather had written 
a doctoral dissertation on the "Tolerance of Religions." 
His brothers followed academic pursuits, and to one of 
them we owe not only valuable comments on his 
published works, but an adequate and brilliant biog- 
raphy of this greatest regenerator of German litera- 

When he was scarcely thirteen, Lessing was sent 
to the celebrated grammar school at Meissen, where 
he finished the prescribed course of study earlier than 
the average student. The dean, in answer to his 
father's inquiry concerning the boy's progress, re- 
plied : "He is a horse that needs double fodder. The 
lessons which are hard for others are nothing for 



him. We can not use him much longer." In Sep- 
tember, 1746, he entered the University of Leipsic as 
a theological student. After a few years at Wittenberg 
and Berlin, he took the degree of Master of Arts, on 
April 29, 1752. 

Already in these early years, he showed a marked 
talent for dramatic composition. The first fruit of 
his literary labors was a comedy, entitled "The Young 
Scholar." It was a study from life, based largely 
upon his own experiences. It was produced with con- 
siderable success in Leipsic and gave him the first 
impetus to a literary career. While at grammar school, 
he had written several fugitive pieces, and, upon be- 
coming acquainted with an interesting philosophic 
coterie at Leipsic, notably the young journalist Mylius, 
who exerted a marked influence over him, he wrote 
poetic burlesques of scientific subjects. His relations 
with Madame Neuber, whose troupe presented his first 
production, brought him into contact with the people 
of the stage, ^his displeased his parents, who feared 
that the kind of life he was leading would inevitably 
jeopardize his future. His letters home were full of 
filial piety and devotion, yet they showed an inde- 
pendence of spirit and a maturity of thought which 
gave indication of great promise. Characteristic is the 
following passage from one of these letters : 

"The Christian religion is not a thing that ought to 
be received on trust from one's parents. The great 
mass of mankind, it is true, inherit it as they do their 
property, but their conduct shows what Christians they 


It is significant that these letters were written by a 
young man scarcely twenty years old. 

In Berlin, Lessing devoted himself to translations 
from foreign languages and, in conjunction with My- 
lius, founded a periodical devoted to the dramatic arts. 
He soon parted company with his friend, however, 
owing to a disagreement on literary subjects and be- 
came a contributor to Voss's Gazette. It was not 
long before he became well-known, through the in- 
dividuality of his utterances. He maintained that 
there were no established canons of art and that every 
new genius modifies principles already recognized. He 
turned the searchlight of philosophy on literary crit- 
icism and blazed a new path for German letters. He 
denounced the pedantry and sentimentality which pre- 
vailed in high circles and inveighed against the domin- 
ance of the French classic drama, which was the model 
in Germany at the time. In consequence of his ef- 
forts, the German language and literature were eman- 
cipated, once and for all, from foreign influence. It 
must be remembered that Frederick the Great and his 
court had succumbed to the spell of Voltaire to such 
an extent that the great monarch was actually inca- 
pable of writing good idiomatic German. It was Less- 
ing and, through him, his friend, Moses Mendelssohn, 
who gave to German style that tone and dignity which 
make the literature of the time so rich and distinctive. 
Permeated by English culture, Lessing endeavored to 
prove that the soul of man, and not his environment, 
represents all that is great and noble in dramatic 
poetry. To vindicate his point of view, he wrote, in 


1753-55, a tragedy in prose, entitled "Miss Sara Samp- 
son," which proved a complete success and liberated 
the German playwrights from their traditional limita- 
tions. This tragedy was first presented at Frankfort- 
on-the-Oder, July 10, 1755, and it is said that the 
spectators "sat for hours like statues and wept an4 
wept". Although it was considered a theatrical tri- 
umph and had the distinction of being translated into 
French and English, its importance now is chiefly 
historical. After all, Lessing's fame rests upon his 
maturer contributions to dramatic literature, of which 
at least three, "Minna von Barnhelm", "Emilia Galot- 
ti" and "Nathan the Wise", representing, respectively, 
comedy, tragedy and didactic drama, have an intrinsic 
and permanent value. 

The salient feature of "Minna von Barnhelm," pub- 
lished in 1767, is its national character. The chief 
personages in the love story are made to symbolize 
the natural ties of race which should bind together the 
different members of the German family, then alien- 
ated and antagonized by dynastic jealousies and in- 
terests. Goethe recalls the tremendous impression 
the comedy made upon the young people of his day 
and speaks of it with reminiscent enthusiasm. 

Although the scene in "Emilia Galotti" is laid in 
Italy and gives a vivid picture of the old Roman Re- 
public, the plot is wholly German in spirit and was 
designed to depict the tyrannical princelings of Les- 
sing's own time and nation. The characters are ad- 
mirably portrayed. The dialogue is simple and the 
plot and dramatic movement remarkably direct and 


rapid. It was first presented at Brunswick, March i, 
1772, and has retained its popularity with German 
theatre-goers to this day. 

Regarding "Nathan the Wise", the scene of which 
is laid in Jerusalem, during the Third Crusade, in the 
latter half of the I2th Century, more will be said in 
the subjoined INTRODUCTION to the poem. It is a 
dialogue in iambics, illustrating Lessing's own views of 
religious toleration and is generally recognized as one 
of the greatest masterpieces of German literature. 
It was published in 1779 and presented in Berlin, 
on April 4, 1783. From that day to this, it has de- 
lighted vast audiences, wherever produced, and the 
character of Nathan has made the fame of at least 
one distinguished actor Adolf von Sonnenthal, who 
played the title role for almost two generations and 
was finally knighted by the Austrian emperor. 

Struggling against poverty and forced into signifi- 
cant positions, in order to maintain himself, yet con- 
scientiously providing for his family, who did not 
scruple to draw heavily upon his meager resources, 
it is astonishing that he should have been able to pro- 
duce works of transcending merit, in his early man- 
hood. Among these may be mentioned his "Fables", 
to which he subsequently added a Critical Comment- 
ary; his "Dramaturgic", a series of dramatic essays, 
as epoch-making in this field as the Laokoon is in the 
realm of art; the "Wolfenbuttel Fragments", which 
led to the famous controversy with Goze, the pastor 
in Hamburg, resulting in a series of learned and sa- 
tirical papers, which are unique in polemic literature; 


and numerous other works on ethical, philosophical 
and literary subjects, which round out a life of great 
achievement. A special interest attaches to his "Five 
Conversations for Freemasons" and his "Education of 
the Human Race", which express his ideas of govern- 
ment and society and embody his views of religious 

When Lessing was about forty years old and his 
poverty became irksome, the post of Librarian at Wol- 
fenbiittel was tendered him by the Duke of Bruns- 
wick, who, though a literary snob, was anxious to 
plume himself by attaching the now-celebrated author 
to his court. The six years he spent there proved 
anything but congenial. Routine work palled upon 
him and his finances were still so uncertain that he 
could not afford to marry, after having faithfully 
waited for his friend Konig's widow for years, dur- 
ing which time the strain of a romantic correspond- 
ence with her told upon his buoyant temperament. 
The "letters* are full of the most beautiful sincerity, 
unselfishness and common-sense, regarding all mat- 
ters of the intellect and emotions". It was not until 
1776 that he finally married Eva Konig, only to lose 
her within a year. The days which followed were 
full of loneliness, though not from lack of friends or 
privation. He had again gone into debt to secure his 
wife's property to her children. In this, as in all 
other concerns of his life, he showed himself truly 
heroic, chivalrous, gentle and sympathetic. It has 
been well said that the dominant passion in his heart 
was not criticism but sympathy, and, while he was 


forced into controversy, he contrived to retain his 
splendid bravado, poise and noble courage, which 
made him a formidable antagonist. He fought for a 
principle and never degraded his literary warfare to 
the level of calumny. He was a brave champion of 
human rights and exemplified in himself the traits 
which adorn his noblest character in fiction "Nathan 
the Wise". 

In 1775, Lessing accompanied the Crown Prince 
of Brunswick to Italy and met with an enthusiastic 
ovation wherever he went. In Vienna, the Empress 
Maria Theresa sent for him and consulted him with 
regard to the intellectual development of the Empire. 
He was presented to the Pope, and the honors ac- 
corded to him on that occasion form a marked con- 
trast to his treatment at the hands of eminent persons, 
at home. 

He enjoyed, however, the confidence, esteem and 
affection of a group of noted literati. The greatest 
minds of his day bowed before him, and it was es- 
pecially his intimate relations with Moses Mendels- 
sohn which afforded him much pleasure and satisfac- 
tion. The two men reciprocally influenced each other, 
and it is not too much to say that each owes to the 
other the impetus which has made them both noble 
in character and great in achievement. 

It is interesting to record Lessing's own estimate 
of himself, which gives striking evidence of his sin- 
cerity and modesty: 

"I am neither an actor nor a poet. People have 
honored me occasionally with the latter title, but it 
is because they have misunderstood me. The few 


dramatic attempts which I have ventured upon do not 
justify this generosity. Not every one who takes a 
brush in his hand and dabbles in colors is a painter. 
The earliest of these attempts of mine were dashed 
off in those years when desire and dexterity are easily 
mistaken for geniws. If there is anything tolerable 
in those of a later date, I am conscious that I owe 
it all to criticism alone. I do not feel in myself that 
living fountain that rises by its own strength, and by 
its own force shoots up in jets so rich, so fresh, so 
pure! I am obliged to press it all up out of myself 
with forcing-pump and pipes. I should be so poor, 
so cold, and so short-sighted if I had not learned in 
some measure modestly to borrow foreign treasures, 
to warm myself at another's fire, and to strengthen 
my sight with the lenses of art. I have therefore al- 
ways been ashamed and vexed when I have read or 
heard anything derogatory to criticism. Criticism, it 
is said, stifles genius ; whereas I flatter myself I have 
received from it something very nearly akin to genius. 
I am a lame man, who cannot be edified by a lampoon 
against crutches." 

In reviewing the life of this man, so rich in varied 
talents, so purposeful and resolute in the attainment 
of the highest good, by means of truth, one is reminded 
of the utterance of Heine, a kindred spirit, whose 
place in German literature is assured and whose life, 
in some respects, affords an interesting parallel to 
Lessing's : 

"If ye will do me honor, lay a sword upon my coffin, 
for I was an intrepid soldier in the war of the libera- 
tion of humanity." 



We read in ancient legends of giants who devoted 
their lives to freeing prisoners of their fetters. Less- 
ing was such a savior of the German spirit. He 
searched through venerable books to discover men who 
were wronged or misunderstood and restored them 
to their proper place in history. He sought to liberate 
the genius of his people from prejudice; its literature 
from slavish dependence upon French influence; its 
theology from the uncritical worship of the letter of 
the law ; its national consciousness from the trammels 
of superstition. He was the first free-thinker in 

The Jewish historian, Graetz, says: "With his 
gigantic mind, Lessing burst through all bonds and 
regulations which degenerate taste, dry-as-dust- 
science, haughty orthodoxy and pedantry of every 
kind had desired to set up and perpetuate. The free- 
dom that Lessing brought to the Germans was more 
solid and permanent than that which Voltaire aroused 
in depraved French society, with his biting sarcasm; 
for his purpose was to ennoble, and his wit was only 
a means to this end. Lessing wished to exalt the 



theatre to a pulpit, and art to a religion. Voltaire 
degraded philosophy into light gossip for the drawing- 

While Lessing was a skilful apologist, on behalf 
of those whose reputation he defended, he was also 
a redoubtable polemist. Indeed, at one time in his 
career, controversy was as breath to his nostrils. He 
was as much at home in the mazes of doctrinal sub- 
tlety as in the domain of art, criticism and philosophy. 
His keen, incisive logic, his caustic satire (always 
devoid of malice) ; his trenchant style, were weapons 
which confounded his foes and brought consterna- 
tion to a whole school of casuists. No one could 
long endure the withering cross-fire of his argument, 
and, in all the battles of the spirit, he came off an 
easy victor. 

The years between the publication of "Emilia Galot- 
ti" and "Nathan the Wise" were eventful and strenu- 
ous ones for Lessing. They embraced those famous 
theological disputations which became the solace and 
pride of his liberal followers. The most notable of 
these writings were the "Wolfenbiittel Fragments" 
(begun in 1774) and the series of learned philippics 
against Melchior Goeze, the pastor of Hamburg. In 
these papers, which bear the title "Anti-Goeze", as 
well as in numerous other essays, he employed against 
orthodox Christianity all the resources of his inexor- 
able logic and linguistic talent ; but true enlightenment 
and religious tolerance were never wanting in his 
thought. It was this element which made his plea 
so significant and effective, and won him so many 


ardent adherents. Unfortunately, he was not alto- 
gether free to express his ideas. In 1778, when 
the controversy with the fanatical zealot, Goeze, was 
at its height, he was restrained, by government cen- 
sorship, from continuing the conflict. He protested 
in vain, but did not allow himself to be swerved from 
his purpose. Compelled to lay down his arms, he soon 
found, in the arsenal of his poetic imagination, another 
choice of weapons and gave the struggle a new and 
wholly unexpected turn. 

On the nth of August, 1778, he wrote to his 
brother Carl: "... Many years ago, I sketched 
a play, the contents of which are somewhat analogous 
to my present controversies, though I had not yet 
then dreamt of them. If you and Moses [Mendels- 
sohn] think well of it, I shall have the thing printed 
by subscription ... Of course, I would not 
like to have the actual character of the piece made 
public too soon; nevertheless, if you or Moses are 
disposed to know, consult Boccaccio's Decamerone, 
Giornata I, Nov. Ill, Melchisedech Giudeo. I believe 
to have discovered a very absorbing episode, which 
makes good reading and will certainly enable me to 
play a far more vexatious prank on the theologians 
than I could with yet ten more 'Fragments' ". A few 
weeks later, he wrote to one of his friends, Elisa 
Reimarus: "I am curious to see whether they will 
let me preach without interference from my old pulpit 
-^the theatre." 

Accordingly, he mounted the pulpit and proclaimed 
to the world his canticle of tolerance, the gospel of 


brotherly love, the immortal epic, "Nathan the Wise". 

Amid disappointments and annoyances of every 
description ; distracted by the death of his wife, which 
left him lonely and desolate; and incessantly attacked 
and maligned by his clerical foe, he completed the 
poem. The first rough draft was finished early in 
November, 1776. On the I9th, according to a notice 
discovered among his papers, he began the versifica- 
tion of the first act; and in May, 1779, the printed 
work was delivered to the subscribers. 

The poet chose English blank verse as the most 
suitable and dignified vehicle of dramatic expression. 
"To finish it quickly", he wrote, on December 16, 
1778, "I am composing it in verse, not in rhymed 
meter, however, for this would be altogether too un- 
rhymed." He had already written to his brother, on 
December 7th: "If I have not already told you that 
the piece is to be in verse, you will, no doubt, wonder 
to find it sp. Do not give yourself unnecessary con- 
cern because of this, believing that the work will be 
delayed. My prose has invariably cost me more time 
than my verse." In another letter to a friend, we 
read: "... I chose the verse form not for the 
sake of euphony, but because the oriental tone, which 
I must accentuate, here and there, would seem awk- 
ward and conspicuous in prose ..." 

Thus, Lessing was the first author in Germany 
to use the iambic pentameter, and the noble, stately 
diction of his "Nathan" served as a model for all 
subsequent writers of tragedy. It is a didactic poem, 
conceived in an altogether new vein and wholly in- 


dependent of the established canons of dramatic art. 
It is a tendenzschrift, full of majestic thought. With 
the possible exception of Goethe's "Faust", we know 
of few similar compositions from which so many 
memorable sentences may be culled. Indeed, in tone, 
dignity, elegance of diction and profound sincerity, 
it may be said to hold equal rank with it, in the estima- 
tion of critics of literature. The author himself was 
well aware of the difficulty of treating so exalted a 
theme in dramatic form. "If it should be said," he 
remarks in an early sketch of his Preface, "that a 
piece of such peculiar tendency is not rich enough 
in intrinsic beauty, I will keep silent, but not feel 
ashamed. I am conscious of the goal which lies be- 
fore me and have no doubt that one can acquit one's 
self with honor in pursuing this path." 

It is certainly remarkable that he should have been 
able to invest a didactic theme with such vividness 
and sympathy as to awaken a profound emotional 
response in the heart of his audience, whenever pre- 
sented on the stage. The characters of the play, al- 
though they typify certain definite ideas which he 
wished to convey, are not abstractions, as in an al- 
legory, but possess truth, individuality and intense 
dramatic power. Here, as in "Emilia Galotti", we 
see the action of the play develop as a natural and 
logical necessity. 

The poet's own conception of his task is clearly 
stated in his Preface: 

"If it should be said that this piece teaches, that it 
is not only since yesterday that people of all nations 


make light of revealed religion and yet are known 
to be estimable persons; and when it is further noted 
that I have quite clearly designed to show such people 
in a less repulsive light than they are accustomed to 
be regarded by the ordinary Christian rabble, I 
should not have very much objection to such a view, 
for a man may teach both and yet not reject all re- 
vealed religion. I am not sly enough to represent 
myself as such a man, yet I am bold enough not to 
dissemble my opinions. But, if it should be said that 
I have offended against poetic good taste, and that it 
is inconceivable that such characters should have 
lived among Jews and Mussulmen, I will have it known 
that the Jews and Mussulmen were the only learned 
men at that time; that the detriment which revealed 
religions bring to mankind must have been at no time 
more striking to a rational being than at the period 
of the Crusades; and that historical proofs are not 
wanting to demonstrate the fact that such an enlight- 
ened individual actually existed in the person of a 

I know as yet of no locality in Germany where this 
play could be produced, but all hail to the place where 
it will first see the light of day !" 

Kuno Fischer, the eminent German critic, whose 
essay on "Nathan the Wise" gives perhaps the most 
exhaustive analysis of the drama (an English version 
is printed, in part, in the Appendix to Miss Ellen 
Frothingham's translation, published in New York, in 
1867), indulges in considerable sophistry in pointing 
out the strong antithesis between the character of 


Nathan and Shylock, forgetting, for the moment, 
that, in reality, Shakespeare's creation, as has been 
definitely proven, was a Christian and not a Jew. In 
this connection, another great writer demands to know 
whether Lessing could have found a Christian hero 
who would rear an orphan child, committed to his 
care, free from the trammels of creed. Only a Jew 
could have pursued such a course, for proselytizing 
is foreign to his nature, and he is inherently broad in 
his religious principles. Thus, the main motive of 
the drama is fully justified. 

In accounting for the fact that Nathan is made the 
hero, Kuno Fischer has this to say: "Take, now, a 
religion by nature intolerant and proud, the proudest, 
the most oppressed of all the religions of the world. 
Imagine a man permitted by his religion to esteem 
himself the chosen of God, but condemned by the 
world, despised and rejected of men. If his soul 
yields to this two- fold pressure, and follows the nat- 
ural course of human passions, it must be consumed 
by hatred and revenge. There must be kindled a 
thirst for vengeance, so demoniacal, so beastly in beast- 
ly natures, that it would tear the pound of flesh from 
an enemy's heart, if only to bait a hook with it. Yet, 
when these passions, which in their worst and lowest 
forms make a Shylock, are conquered by a noble 
soul when toleration is wrested from a religion at 
once the proudest and most oppressed, we have a 
Nathan. He will not now, indeed, narrowly represent 
his religion; but toleration would not cost what it 
does, if he did not prize his religion and were not in 


sympathy with it. He still feels it to be his religion, 
the faith of his people and his fathers the faith to 
which he is linked by a thousand indissoluble ties. 
He does not represent Judaism, but he is and remains 
a Jew not because Judaism is a tolerant religion, 
but because it is the reverse . . . ' 

While the critic accepts the theory that Lessing, 
in his hero, depicted his friend, Mendelssohn, he seems 
to be unwilling to recognize in the great philosopher 
those shining qualities which Lessing so deeply ad- 
mired in his Jewish friend. To him, as to many others, 
such a Jew, in the flesh, would be almost an anomaly, 
and it is for this reason that we are constrained to 
turn our attention to the relations which existed be- 
tween the two friends. 

It might be pointed out, in passing, that the poet 
unconsciously adverted to a historical fact when he 
made Nathan a power at the court of Saladin. In the 
Middle Ages, Jews engaged in the learned professions 
were frequently to be found in the entourage of their 
royal masters. Thus, to mention but a few, Dunash 
Ibn Tamim was court physician about the year 950; 
Abu Mansur (flourished 1125), and Ibn Firkah were 
physicians of the Caliph Al-Hafiz; Nathanael Israeli, 
the Egyptian (about 1150), served in the same capa- 
city to the last Fatimite Caliph of Egypt and to the 
great Saladin. Abu al-Bayyan al-Mudavvar (died 
1184) and Abu al-Ma'ali, brother-in-law of Maimon- 
ides, were likewise in the service of that illustrious 
monarch. Moses Maimonides himself (1135 to 1205), 
the greatest thinker among the Jews, was devoted 


particularly to the study of medicine, in which he dis- 
tinguished himself to such a degree that "the King of 
the Franks in Ascalon," who is said to be identical 
with King Richard I of England (Coeur de Lion), 
wanted to appoint him as his physician, and became so 
eminent in his profession that Alfadhel, Vizier of 
Saladin, bestowed upon him many distinctions. The 
name of Maimonides was entered on the roll of physi- 
cians; he received a pension and was introduced to 
the court of Saladin. In a letter written to another 
learned Jew of his time, he says : 

"I reside in Egypt ; the King resides in Cairo, which 
lies about two Sabbath-day journeys from the first- 
named place. My duties to the King are very heavy. 
I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morn- 
ing; and when he or any of his children, or the in- 
mates of his harem, are indisposed, I dare not quit 
Cairo, but must stay, during the greater part of the 
day in the palace. It also frequently happens that 
one or two of the royal officers fall sick, and then I 
have to attend them. As a rule, I go to Cairo very 
early in the day, and, even if nothing unusual happens, 
I do not return before the afternoon, when I am al- 
most dead with hunger; but I find the antechambers 
filled with Jews and Gentiles, with nobles and common 
people, awaiting my return . . . ' 

From the last part of this letter, it may be deduced 
that Saladin was indeed an enlightened prince, to 
whom people of all races and religions had ready 
access. He allowed the Jews to settle in Jerusalem; 
accorded <them full protection, as he did to all aliens, 


even his enemies; and the Jews rose to great power 
and distinction, under his rule. The testimony of the 
great Jewish philosopher is, therefore, sufficient to 
vindicate Lessing's portraiture of Saladin. 

If this proof be inadequate, one has but to con- 
sider, in the light of history, the intimate relations 
between the poet and the man who is sometimes de- 
scribed by Christian writers as the "Jewish Socrates", 
in order to establish the fact that the picture we have 
of him, in Nathan, is faithful to life in every detail 
and that Lessing did not have to draw upon his im- 
agination to present so lofty and ideal a character. 

(From a rare engraving by Prof. J. 6. M filler, Stuttgart, 1786) 



Moses Mendelssohn, deformed and unprepossessing 
in appearance, like Aesop; puny in stature and weak 
in body, was undoubtedly one of the greatest intellects 
in his day. Reared in poverty, and occupied, day and 
night, in the study of the Jewish Law, he overcame 
not only his natural limitations, but the civic and so- 
cial disabilities under which his co-religionists suf- 
fered. Risen from the ranks, and unaided, save by 
his own exalted ideals and singular attainments, he 
soon enjoyed the protection of Frederick the Great, 
who accorded him special honors and made him a 
"Court Jew." He thus affords a striking parallel 
to Nathan in the drama. His elevation to fame left 
him simple, modest and unassuming, and he used what- 
ever power and influence he had to ameliorate the con- 
dition of his downtrodden people. Staunch in his con- 
victions; resolute in character; brave and dauntless, 
as the Jew in Lessing's epic, he broke a lance with 
the great Emperor on many an occasion, fearlessly 
discussing weighty problems with him and venturing 
so far as to criticize his royal master. How closely 
this intrepid philosopher resembles the gentle, astute, 
magnanimous Jew in Lessing's story! He was, in 
spirit and in flesh, the prototype of the poet's creation. 



From the Middle Ages, when the Jew was supreme 
in national culture and in the wide range of his at- 
tainments, to the early decades of the i8th century, 
when he x lapsed into degradation and self-sufficiency, 
is a long cry. It was reserved for Mendelssohn (born 
December 6, 1729; died January 4, 1784) to analyze 
and interpret this condition. "My people have sunk 
to such a low cultural level," writes he, "that one de- 
spairs of the possibility of effecting a change for the 
better." But this pessimistic conviction and prophecy 
did not deter him from removing the spiritual fetters 
of his people and awakening in them a love for the 
beautiful, the true and the good. A stammering 
cripple, outwardly repulsive, but cherishing high ideals 
and harboring a lofty soul, he was able, by his genius, 
discernment, sympathy and understanding, to eman- 
cipate his nation from the physical and spiritual thral- 
dom in which it lived. And when we know the full 
story of his achievements, his unhandsome exterior is 
soon forgotten. His dwarfed body takes on a giant's 
stature, and we behold in him a second Moses, leading 
his benighted and enslaved people from the darkness 
into the light. 

The Renaissance of the Jews was brought about by 
no conscious effort on his part; indeed, he doubted 
that it could be effected at all. Timid and diffident 
by nature, he shunned all publicity and did not make 
himself felt by engaging in any active propaganda 
on behalf of his race. Even when he was called 
upon to lead, he declined to serve, modestly disclaim- 
ing any qualification for such a task. But, without 


knowing it himself, he exerted a potent influence upon 
the regeneration of the Jewish people. He unwittingly 
aroused the dormant recuperative faculty of the race, 
which only needed the inspiration of such a person- 
ality to enable it to emerge from its low estate and to 
develop to its fullest power. His biography, therefore, 
is actually the history of the Jews of modern times. 
It is the record of their struggle and salvation; of 
their providential redemption from obscurity and 
ignominy and their attainment to recognition and self- 

Though practically self-taught, he was trained in 
science, as in polite literature, by Jewish teachers, who 
had, in a measure, emancipated themselves from the 
prejudices of their time. Maimonides became his in- 
tellectual mentor, and he passionately devoted himself 
to the study of his works. From this source, he de- 
rived his keen, penetrating logic, his love for philo- 
sophic thought and his lucidity of expression. 

By seclusion and self-abnegation, he learned to 
develop his character. He tamed his wild, hectic tem- 
perament until his emotions became subservient to his 
reason. Indeed, he had become so mild and forbear- 
ing that, when, at the zenith of his fame, some insolent 
students at Konigsberg made cruel sport of his natural 
infirmities, scoffed at his hump and his pointed beard, 
he remained impassive and retorted amiably: "I am 
only waiting to hear Professor Kant's discourse." In 
common with his other learned co-religionists, he used 
the Hebrew language as a vehicle of literary expres- 
sion, but, in this also, he effected a startling trans- 


formation. His was a golden touch. The clumsy, 
technical, artificial style then in vogue eventually gave 
way to a clear, easy-flowing and brilliant prose his 
own earliest compositions serving as models which 
have rarely been excelled. His writings were in- 
stinct with life and conformed to the modern spirit, 
which permeated all his work. The conflict between 
the old and new order of things still stirred within 
him when the one man came into his life who was to 
bring him clarity of view, a broader vision and truer 

It was in 1754 that Lessing first became acquainted 
with the cultured little savant of Berlin, then only 25 
years old, "with whose lips", Carlyle tells us, "Soc- 
rates spoke like Socrates in German, as in no modern 
language, for his own character was Socratic"; and 
of whom Alexander I, the enlightened Czar of Russia, 
said, in commemorating the emancipation of the Jews 
of his empire, that his greatest reward would be to 
produce a Mendelssohn. 

It was another Jew, Isaac Hess*, a lover of chess, 
who brought these kindred spirits together. "The 
royal game", Graetz aptly observes, "united two 
monarchs in the domain of thought". And the bond 

* According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, VIII, 479 it 
was Aaron Solomon Gumperz, a wealthy medical student, 
who introduced Mendelssohn to Lessing as a good chess 
player. Gumperz taught Mendelssohn French and English, 
inspired him with a taste for science and philosophy, and 
was instrumental in bringing him to the attention of 
Maupertuis, President of the Berlin Academy, and other 


was to last through life. The poet's democratic nature 
knew no distinction. He eagerly sought the com- 
pany of those who were the despised and rejected 
of men. He numbered among his friends men of the 
type of Kant, Abbt, Garve, Reimarus, Kleist, Lavater 
and others more or less distinguished; but he also 
deigned to associate with the dreamers of the Ghetto. 
In his writings he speaks in appreciative terms of 
several eminent Jewish scholars, who were then strug- 
gling for recognition, and he demonstrated, whenever 
occasion arose, his catholic sympathies. 

Already in 1747, seven years before he met Mendels- 
sohn, Lessing had given striking evidence of his 
broad-mindedness. When his compatriots everywhere 
scorned them, he took up the cudgels in their defense, 
by presenting, in his comedy, "The Jew", an Israelite 
without guile, whose personal integrity and loftiness 
of character afford an interesting contrast to the type 
of Christian philistines he describes in the play. A 
brief synopsis of it may not be out of place: 

A Jewish traveler rescues a German nobleman from 
the murderous assault of robbers and rejects all rec- 
ompense for his services. He gracefully declines the 
hand of the Baron's daughter, which was preferred 
as an expression of gratitude, and, when, to the amaze- 
ment of the company, he reveals himself as a Jew, 
he exclaims, with conscious pride, after hearing all 
manner of abuse heaped upon his race by the people 
whom he had befriended : 

"All the reward I ask is this that hereafter you 
may judge my nation more leniently and not condemn 


it without a hearing. I disguised my true origin, not 
because I was ashamed, but because I perceived that 
you were attached to my person, while you were re- 
pelled by my people." 

To his own servant, whom he had saved from need 
and misery, and who blurts out this protest, upon 
learning that his master is a Jew : "You have offended 
in me the whole of Christendom by engaging me, in- 
stead of entering into my service", he makes this re- 
tort: "I cannot credit you with nobler motives than 
the rest of the Christian rabble". He likewise pays 
his respects to the Baron, the proud representative of 
the exclusive set, who, taken off his feet by this un- 
expected turn of affairs, cries out in admiration : "O 
how estimable would be the Jews, if they all resembled 
you!" To which the Jew replies: "And how estim- 
able would be the Christians, if they all had your fine 
qualities !" 

It must have afforded the author great satisfaction 
to have created an ideal Jewish character long before 
he had come into actual contact with Mendelssohn, 
who justified to the world the accuracy of the fanciful 
portrait he had drawn in this comedy, written in his 
eighteenth year. 

As might have been expected, this youthful perform- 
ance provoked considerable criticism. One reviewer, 
comparing it with Gellert's "Swedish Countess", which 
also exalts the Jewish character, maintains that, while 
it is possible that such a noble type exists among the 
Jews, it is altogether improbable that he is anything 
but a rare exception, since the race is given to trading 


and has more opportunities and temptations for 
crooked dealing than people in other professions. In 
examining this sweeping assertion, Lessing has this 
to say, in a special article, written seven years after 
the publication of the play: 

"My antagonist declares that such a Jew cannot be 
true to life, because he lives amid degradation and 
oppression and is obliged to subsist solely by trade. 
Granted; but, does it necessarily follow that the im- 
probability is not eliminated if these adverse circum- 
stances are changed ? But when can this come to pass ? 
Undoubtedly, only when the Jew begins to feel the 
scorn and obloquy of the Christians in a lesser degree 
and is not constrained to eke out a wretched existence 
in petty, despicable barter. What then becomes the 
next requisite? Affluence? O yes, the right use of 
riches is also of prime importance. It should be ob- 
served that both of these conditions are met in the 
character of my Jew in the comedy. He is wealthy; 
he himself declares that the God of his fathers had 
given him more than he needed ; I make him a traveler ; 
I undertake to shield him from natural imputations of 
ignorance; he is a reader, who is not without books 
even on his journeys. If then you ask whether it can 
actually be true that my Jew should have educated him- 
self ; and insist that wealth, a more fortunate experi- 
ence, and an enlightened mind, cannot effect a salutary 
change in a Jew, I must reply that it is this very 
prejudice which I have attempted to combat in my 
comedy a prejudice which can flow only from hatred 
and pride and makes the Jew not only a boor, but a 


pariah of mankind. If my co-religionists cannot over- 
come this prejudice, I dare not flatter myself that my 
piece will ever be graciously received. Would I then 
be able to persuade them to give every Jew credit for 
probity and magnanimity, or, at least, to attribute 
these qualities to most of them? Let me say quite 
plainly : even if my traveler were a Christian, his would 
be a singularly rare character, and, if rareness con- 
stitutes an improbability, then it would be improbable 

Abruptly discontinuing the vindication of his point 
of view with the remark that one ought to strive to 
know deserving Jews more intimately and cease to rail 
against them, because the type that is usually in evi- 
dence at the annual fair is repugnant to the cultured, 
Lessing declares that he prefers to set forth the testi- 
mony of one "who is as witty as he is learned and up- 
right and whom he knows too well to deny him an 
audience". . He suspects that the letter which he sub- 
joins from this source will be considered an inven- 
tion on his part and begs the reader to convince him- 
self of its authenticity. 

This remarkable document, we are told, was anony- 
mously addressed by its author to another Jewish 
friend, who, Lessing adds, is "wholly akin to him in 
noble attributes". It is needless to say that this un- 
named scribe is Mendelssohn, who directed an impas- 
sioned protest against Michaelis, the reviewer of the 
play, to his erstwhile teacher, Doctor Gumperz, a 
learned physician and authority in mathematics, act- 
ing, at the time, as private secretary to Maupertuis, 
the academician. 


This information is furnished by Karl Lessing, the 
poet's brother, who, as the biographer and annotator 
of his works, was in a position to know all the details 
of his life. In the course of his dignified, but in- 
dignant rejoinder, Mendelssohn bitterly denounces the 
view that the Jew in Lessing's play should be deemed 
a fanciful exaggeration and not the characterization 
of an existing type. One would expect, says he, more 
honesty and forbearance from scholars who are so 
punctilious in their own demands, but are themselves 
quite devoid of fairness and sweet reasonableness. 

"How sadly I have erred in my hope to be meted 
out that justice by Christian writers which they exact 
from others!" 

"Verily", he continues, "how dare a man, with a 
spark of integrity in his soul, assert that there is not 
a single upright individual to be found in a whole 
nation! A race from which Lessing boasts that all 
the prophets and the greatest kings have sprung! Is 
this cruel judgment justifiable? If so, what a dis- 
grace for humanity; if unjustifiable, what a disgrace 
for him who makes the charge ! Is it not enough that 
we must suffer Christian hatred in so many cruel 
ways; shall such injustice be still further fortified 
by calumny ? Let them persist in their persecutions ; 
let them keep us isolated in a commonwealth of free 
and happy citizens; yea, let them expose us to the 
scorn and derision of the entire world ; but our virtue, 
the solace of all stricken souls, the only refuge of the 
utterly forsaken, they shall not venture to take away 
from us !" 


He continues in this strain at some length, vindicat- 
ing with fiery eloquence the innate decency and moral- 
ity of his race, whose ethical precepts and domestic 
qualities are too universally recognized to require a 
defence; and concludes by saying that he pities the 
person "who can read such an arraignment of an 
entire people without a shudder". 

Lessing finally adds, by way of postscript to this 
protest, that he has also the reply to it before him, 
written in some heat by the erudite physician, to whom 
it is addressed, and that he can assure the public that 
"both correspondents have contrived to acquire enough 
virtue and wisdom without riches" and that he is con- 
vinced that "they would have more followers among 
their own people if only good Christians suffered them 
to emerge from their obscurity and permitted them to 
hold up their heads a little higher". 

Seven years had passed since the young poet's 
comedy appeared, in which he strove to reinstate the 
much-despised Jew in the estimation of his com- 
patriots. His ideals and aspirations had kept pace 
with his unfolding genius, and his spiritual develop- 
ment was further enhanced by the loyal friendship 
of two men with whom he came in close personal 
contact during his second sojourn in Berlin. These 
men were Friedrich Nicolai, a youthful bookseller, 
who had already won his spurs in literature, and Moses 
Mendelssohn, the philosopher, then still unknown, of 
about the same age as Lessing, employed in a silk 
factory. The three men were uncommonly congenial. 
Mendelssohn's special knowledge of English literature, 


in which the others were deeply interested, proved 
to be the bond which united them in literary and social 
fellowship. In addition to these, Lessing's intimate 
circle of friends included Professor Sulzer and Ram- 
ler, the celebrated writer of odes. 

In character and attainments, Lessing and Mendels- 
sohn were singularly alike; yet each, in his excessive 
modesty, admired in the other the very qualities which 
distinguished both. Mendelssohn was attracted to 
Lessing by reason of his broad culture, his brilliancy 
and daring, his freedom from all restraint, and a cer- 
tain brotherly sympathy which cheereei and warmed 
his heart. He once declared that a genial glance from 
his eye had the effect of banishing all anxiety and 

What Lessing, on the other hand, cherished most 
in his Jewish friend, was his great strength of char- 
acter, the roots of which lay in his ethical conscious- 
ness ; his eager quest of truth and his loftiness of 
thought. They reciprocally influenced each other's 
destiny. Lessing saw in Mendelssohn "a second 
Spinoza, who would do honor to his nation". He in- 
spired in him a profound interest in aesthetics, poetry 
and art, and was amply compensated by the stimulus 
for philosophic thought he received from Mendelssohn. 
Thus the bond of amity between them became closer 
and closer, lasting not only through life, but even be- 
yond the grave. 

"It may be said, without exaggeration, that Less- 
ing's influence was greater in ennobling the Jewish 
race than in elevating the German people, due to the 


fact that the Jews were more eager for study and 
more susceptible to culture. All that Mendelssohn 
gained by intercourse with his friend benefited Juda- 
ism Mendelssohn was introduced into 

his circle, learned the amenities of society and threw 
off the awkwardness which was the stamp of the 

That Lessing did this for his friend is proof of 
his nobility of heart ; that Mendelssohn availed himself 
of the opportunities thus presented redounded to his 
everlasting glory, for, in entering this new, strange 
world of men and ideas, he unquestionably created a 
memorable epoch in Jewish history. He accomplished 
the spiritual and intellectual emancipation of his 
people. It heartens one, even to-day, to read how 
wisely and gently he bore himself in his own domestic 
life, as well as in select society; how everybody de- 
ferred to him, bowed to his decision and paid him re- 
spectful homage. No personage of worth visited Ber- 
lin without cfoing him reverence, after he had reached 
the zenith of his fame and his exemplary virtues as 
man and thinker had come to be universally recog- 

Mendelssohn's greatest merit was his complete mas- 
tery of German style, which was the direct result of his 
association with his Christian compatriots. It required 
courage to challenge the established traditions of the 
Ghetto. To read a German book was regarded a here- 
sy, in his day. He could recall an episode in his boy- 
hood when one of his co-religionists was expelled 
from Berlin for such an offense. That was in the 


early forties of the eighteenth century. Ten years 
later appeared Mendelssohn's maiden effort in Ger- 
man. He learned to write the language with con- 
siderable difficulty, but he soon acquired a perfection 
of style seldom attained by any one of his contem- 
poraries. He wrote as he spoke, placidly and distinct- 
ly, without artifice or striving after effect. Everyone 
could follow his thought, however subtle, and realized 
that a new star had risen in the literary firmament. 

The Jews too understood him. He had cast a spell 
on Berlin, on Germany the spell of redemption. A 
far-reaching Reformation set in, such as Judaism in 
all its centuries of wandering had seldom experienced. 
History teaches that a spiritual renaissance is frequent- 
ly brought about by some distinctive literary achieve- 
ment. What Ulfilas, the Goth, Luther, the rugged 
German, and Wycliffe, the Briton, had accomplished 
for humanity by their respective Bible translations, 
Mendelssohn wrought for his despised race, by his 
epoch-making version of the Pentateuch and the 
Psalms, in the German vernacular. It had all the 
beauty, dignity and strength of the Hebrew original 
and initiated the Jews in Germany, Austria, Russia 
and Poland in the study of correct and graceful Ger- 
man style. Written for the benefit of his own chil- 
dren, it became the instrument of Jewish emancipation. 
It remains a national classic a spiritual heritage for 
all times.y 

As the first result of his researches in English litera- 
ture, Lessing wrote, in collaboration with Mendels- 
sohn, an anonymous, satirical treatise, entitled "Pope 


as a Metaphysician", called forth by a prize offered 
by the Berlin Academy. In this essay, published in 
1755, the authors zealously defend the teachings of 
Leibnitz. Mendelssohn was an enthusiastic disciple 
of his school of philosophy, and, though decidedly 
antagonistic to Spinoza's pantheistic doctrines, 
entered the lists on his behalf in another anonymous 
work, entitled "Philosophic Dialogues", which ap- 
peared in the same year. With the exception of the 
masterly letter to Gumperz, which he had written in 
answer to Lessing's anti-Jewish critics, and from which 
we have given extracts, this was his first literary 
production in German. One day, the frank and boy- 
ish Lessing came with a laugh to Mendelssohn's desk, 
in the counting-room, holding in his hand a volume 
fresh from printer and binder. To the amazement 
of Mendelssohn, it was a manuscript of his own, which 
he had modestly withheld from the press. His friend, 
however, had taken it without his knowledge and was 
spreading it far and wide in an ample edition. Its 
success was so marked, that he became henceforth a 
prolific and versatile bookman. Lessing, therefore, 
enjoys the distinction of having introduced Mendels- 
sohn into the world of letters. 

The true authorship of the essay on Pope could 
not long remain hidden. It is significant that Mendels- 
sohn would not agree to be named as collaborator, 
preferring to let Lessing reap all the honors (see Less- 
ing's letter to Mendelssohn of February 18, 1755). 
However, the facts soon became known, and the 
youthful philosopher was enthusiastically hailed by 


the Academicians. In court circles too, they wished 
to know "the young Hebrew who wrote in German". 
The purity of his style, his gift for popular presenta- 
tion of abstract themes, and, above all, his evident 
sincerity, captivated not only German readers, but all 
lovers of philosophy and literature. Among those 
who appreciated him was Kant, the greatest thinker 
of modern times, who called him a genius, "destined 
to create a new epoch in metaphysics and to establish 
an altogether new norm of criticism". In a letter 
to Dr. Marcus Herz, the well-known physician who 
gave lectures on the philosophy of Kant, which were 
attended by all the notables of the city, including the 
princes of royal blood, and whose beautiful wife is 
remembered for the part she played in the social and 
literary life of the great metropolis the famous author 
of the "Critique of Pure Reason" writes as follows: 
"While it is not altogether desirable that all writers 
should have a peculiar style, any more than that all 
trees should 'bear a distinctive bark; nevertheless, 
Mendelssohn's manner of expressing himself appears 
to me to be the most suitable for philosophic discourse. 
It is so free from all passion for dazzling ornament 
and yet so elegant; so sagacious and yet so clear; so 
penetrating, though it makes no visible effort to stir 
the emotions at all. If the Muses should give Phil- 
osophy a tongue, it would speak his language." 

This is high praise indeed, coming from such a 
source, especially when one considers that Mendels- 
sohn had been awarded the prize by the Berlin 
Academy, about fifteen years before the above-quoted 


lines were written, for his essay on "The Mathe- 
matical Method in Philosophic Reasoning", defeating 
Kant in the contest, entirely on account of his lucid 
and attractive style. It was his endeavor to perfect 
himself in German, and he applied himself to this 
task with a devotion almost equal to his love for He- 
brew lore. And the result justified his expectations, 
for his contributions to aesthetics, philosophy and litera- 
ture were looked upon as classics in the language by 
his countrymen, although the critics of a later day 
were more grudging in their estimate. His "Phaedo 
or The Immortality of the Soul" won extraordinary 
popularity in Berlin, as much for its literary charm 
as for its spiritual message. It is a work of rare 
beauty, which, more than any of his writings, estab- 
lished his fame as a profound and original thinker. 

In this book Mendelssohn translated the dialogue 
of Plato, of the same name, enlarging and developing 
the argument in the spirit of later philosophy. As an 
introduction to the work, a picture of the life and 
character of Socrates was given, full of the highest 
love and veneration for the master-sage. The tone 
of Mendelssohn's "Phaedo" is most exalted and soon 
challenged the admiration of the world. Edition fol- 
lowed edition; it was translated into most European 
languages, as also into Hebrew and Judaeo-German. 
Inasmuch as so many thinkers of his day have clothed 
their speculations with an obscure and technical style, 
which renders them inaccessible except to minds of 
exceptional power of penetration, it is worth while 
to speak of the admirable clearness and grace of Men- 


delssohn's method of presentation. The work is a 
series of the sublimest thoughts, fitly framed, pervaded 
with the broadest and noblest spirit. 

As he was a typical German in his literary style, 
so pronounced were his political ideas and his rugged 
patriotism. He was not only one of the best prose 
writers of the land, but ranged himself on the side 
of the greatest leaders in citizenship. He seized every 
opportunity to emphasize the fact that a Jew was, 
above all things, a German and servant of the State. 
In his "Philosophic Dialogues", for example, he re- 
bukes the Germans for ignoring their own spiritual 
heritage and permitting themselves to fall under the 
yoke of French supremacy in the arts. "Will the 
Germans", he exclaims, "never realize their own in- 
trinsic worth? Will they forever exchange their pure 
gold for the tinsel of their neighbors?" In a review 
of Zimmermann's treatise on "National Pride" and 
Abbt's book on "Dying for the Fatherland", he gives 
striking evidence of his matchless patriotism and his 
devotion to his native Germany. One is tempted to 
quote at length from these memorable utterances, but 
the following will suffice: 

"Why is it that ancient history is always more in- 
teresting than modern history, although the latter is 
so much nearer to our own times? One of the most 
important reasons, no doubt, is this that, with the 
Greeks and Romans, the whole nation was animated 
by one mode of thought; the love for the Fatherland 
was at the root of all their world-struggles; it was 
the battle-cry of their bloody wars and the sinew of 


all their negotiations. The historian saw in this 
dominant mode of thought a wide field for the ex- 
pansion of its genius, for he described not only deeds 
but the ideas and convictions of entire nations as well. 
In our own times, however, the nations have scarcely 
any mode of thought. The love for the Fatherland 
has been repudiated, together with other prejudices, 
and should this love for the Fatherland once again 
inspire the hearts of our fellow citizens, the nation 
must of necessity adopt a new mode of thought, re- 
juvenated as it will be by a new spirit. Its achieve- 
ments in the service of the King will then have more 
natural motive power than obedience; more love than 
mere attachment to the soil. Once the nation receives 
a new impetus from its love for the Fatherland, it 
naturally follows that all activities of the citizens be- 
come more and more ennobled, so as to conform to 
this new mode of thought. 

It will be seen from this and similar sentiments, 
scattered throughout his works, that Mendelssohn was 
a true patriot. Indeed, in Germany, as elsewhere, the 
Jew has always proven himself to be the most loyal 
and representative citizen. It must have caused him 
great personal sorrow to note the misery of his co-re- 
ligionists, who were deprived of all civic rights and 
privileges. They were exposed to the meanest insults 
of the mob, whenever they ventured on the street. As 
late as the year 1780, he wrote, in the following bit- 
ter strain to a personal friend, a Benedictine brother'. 
"Everywhere, in this so-called tolerant land, I live so 
isolated through real intolerance, so beset on every 


side, that, out of love for my own children, I lock my- 
self up in a silk factory, as in a cloister. Of an even- 
ing, I take a walk with my wife and children. 'Father,' 
asks one of the innocents, 'what does that fellow yell 
after us? Why do they pelt us with stones? What 
have we done to them?' 'Yes, dear father,' says 
another, 'they follow us constantly on the streets and 
sneeringly cry "Jews! Jews!" Do these people then 
think it is a disgrace to be a Jew ? And what does it 

matter to them ?' Ah, I close my eyes, stifle 

a sigh inwardly and exclaim : 'Poor humanity ! You 
have indeed brought things to a sorry pass !' " 

Although taking no active part in wordly affairs, 
sedulously avoiding the task of leadership, which would 
have plunged him into bitter wrangles, he did not fail 
to respond to any call which demanded the weight of 
his authority and influence, in the defence of the liber- 
ties of his own people. For example, when fresh meas- 
ures were taken, in Switzerland, in 1774, to restrict 
Jewish marriages, he successfully pleaded on their be- 
half. Another time, when, according to a new edict, 
promulgated in Saxony on September 15, 1772, a large 
number of impoverished Jewish families were to be 
expelled, his energetic intercession with an eminent 
statesman, who was his personal friend, happily warded 
off the threatened calamity. A Bohemian Talmudist, in 
Saxony, was imprisoned, on the strength of false testi- 
mony, and an open letter from the pen of Mendelssohn 
set him free. The Jews of Poland laid their grievances 
before him when, weighed down by all manner of ac- 
cusations, their very existence was placed in jeopardy. 


It was due chiefly to his strenuous efforts that the dig- 
nity of divine service was maintained and that his co- 
religionists were not molested by offensive interference 
during the hours of prayer. A professor of Konigsberg, 
who was the government supervisor of the synagogues 
in that city, had denounced a certain prayer in the 
ritual, in a report to the Ministry, on April 5, 1777. 
On the request of the congregational leaders, Mendels- 
sohn prepared a brief, which proved so effective that 
Frederick the Great forthwith abolished all govern- 
ment censorship of divine worship, which offended and 
degraded the sanctity of the synagogue. 

By special imperial privilege, Mendelssohn enjoyed 
the protection of the court and bore the title of 
"Schutz-Jude" from the year 1763 on. He had the 
temerity to issue the first plea for tolerance and for 
the complete enfranchisement of his Jewish brethren. 
His views were voiced in a work which ranks as per- 
haps the most valuable document of its kind in litera- 
ture. He "called it "Jerusalem" and it contains the 
most momentous utterances that have ever emanated 
from a Jewish pen. The great philosopher Kant con- 
gratulated him on this performance, in a letter dated 
August 16, 1773, in the following words : 

"With what admiration I have read your 'Jeru- 
salem' ! I regard this book as the announcement of a 
great, though slow-coming reform, which will affect 
not only your nation, but also others. You have 
managed to unite with your religion such a spirit of 
freedom and tolerance as it has not had credit for 
and such as no other faith can boast. You have so 


powerfully presented the necessity of an unlimited 
liberty of conscience, for every faith, that, at length, 
on our side too, the church must do some serious 
thinking. The Christians must study whether in their 
creeds there are not things which burden and oppress 
the spirit and look toward a union which, as regards 
essential religious points, shall bring all of us to- 

As many of his major works, this memorable human 
document was also translated in English. We possess 
several versions of it, notably one from the pen of 
Raibbi Isaac Lesser, of Philadelphia. It has not lost 
its potency even to this day, and it would be well if it 
were more extensively circulated among our Jewish 
as well as Christian brethren. We content ourselves 
in quoting one single paragraph, which conveys the 
general drift of his argument: 

"Why should you condemn us for doing that which 
the founder of your religion himself has done and 
confirmed by his authority? Will you withhold from 
us civic fellowship and brotherly love, because we 
differ from you in our ceremonial laws, but do not 
eat with you, do not marry with you, when, so far 
as we can perceive, the founder of your religion had 
done the self-same thing and would, indeed, not have 
permitted us to act otherwise? If this is and should 
remain your true conviction, and civic equality may 
not be acquired under any other condition than that 
we violate our statutes, which we still consider bind- 
ing, then it pains us to be obliged to declare : that we 
must dispense with civic equality. Then Dohm, the 


great friend of mankind, has labored in vain, and 
everything must continue in the same pitiful state 

that it is to-day It is not up to us to 

yield, but it is incumbent upon us, if we are honest 
and upright, to show you brotherly love, notwithstand- 
ing, and to appeal to you, in brotherly love, to miti- 
gate our lot and to make our burdens as bearable as 
possible. If you will not look upon us as brothers 
and fellow-citizens, consider us, at least, as fellow-men 
and denizens of a common country. Show us ways 
and means how to become better burghers and suffer 
us, so far as time and circumstances permit, to enjoy 
the primitive rights of mankind. We cannot, in con- 
science, deviate from our laws, and of what use are 
fellow-citizens without a conscience?" 

Another opportunity to serve his co-religionists 
arose when a noted representative of the Jews in Al- 
sace turned to him with the request to prepare a 
memoir, wherein the intolerable condition of the Jews 
in that province should be set forth. Instead of draft- 
ing such a document, he persuaded an eminent states- 
man and jurist to undertake the task. In the person 
of Christian Wilhehn von Dohm (born December n, 
1741 ; died May 29, 1829), the Jews found a powerful 
spokesman and champion. With the help of Mendels- 
sohn, he composed a book on the "Civic Amelior- 
tion of the Jews", which is not only the first work 
of this character, but remains the most valuable and 
important contribution to the history of Jewish eman- 
cipation. The author did yeoman service for the 
Jews of Germany, in vindicating their rights and 


privileges and redeeming them from slavery and dis- 
honor. His appeal had, in a sense, the same effect 
on the nation's sense of justice that Lessing's "Nathan" 
had upon the literary world, with its magnificent plea 
for universal tolerance. Not since the days of the 
great Reformation, when John Reuchlin raised his 
powerful voice on behalf of the Jewish race, whose 
language and literature he studied and admired so 
sincerely, had such a cry for justice been heard in 
German lands. 

"The anti-Jewish policy of the present day", he 
pleaded, "is a reminder of the barbarism of bygone 
centuries, a result of fanatical religious hatred, un- 
worthy of the enlightenment of modern times, which 

civilization should have long since rooted out 

Every citizen who observes the law and contributes, 
by his industry, to the welfare of the commonwealth, 

should be welcomed by the State The Jew 

also has a righteous claim to the full enjoyment of 
civic privileges and a common fellowship. His re- 
ligion does not render him unworthy of it, inasmuch 
as he can be a very good citizen, even if he strictly 

follows the mandates of his traditions I 

even venture to congratulate the State which carries 
out these principles; it will create, by its own re- 
sources, new, loyal and grateful subjects; it will make 
good citizens of its native Jews." 

Dohm's work caused the greatest sensation through- 
out Germany. His stirring appeal reached the thrifty 
Jewish colony in Surinam, Dutch Guiana, and we owe 
a history of that interesting community entirely to 


his inspiration. That a man of his high social and 
official standing, a noted statesman, privy-councilor 
of war, should have dared to demand emancipation 
for the friendless outcasts of the Ghetto, in such 
strenuous and ruthless fashion, was an unprecedented 
move. As might have been expected, coals of fire 
were heaped upon his head by the publication of a 
whole series of rejoinders, full of malice and vitupera- 
tion, which strove to nullify his arguments by re- 
course to mediaevil slanders and prejudices. The con- 
troversy raged with such violence that Mendelssohn 
was again constrained to enter the lists with his pen. 
He added "Notes" to the second volume of Dohm's 
work, which definitely disposed of all criticisms and 
objections, and wrote an exhaustive Preface, in his 
matchless style, to the translation of Menasseh ben 
Israel's "Vindication of the Jews", first issued in 
1656, which Dr. Marcus Herz rendered into grace- 
ful German. 

This "Preface" was energetically assailed in peri- 
odicals and pamphlets; and it is in final rebuttal 
that he composed his celebrated work "Jerusalem, or 
Concerning Religious Power and Judaism", in 1783. 
Although his opponents decried its author as a ration- 
alist and even an atheist, and the Jews were little 
more pleased since, on the one hand, he recognized 
the basic principle of Judaism to be freedom of 
thought and belief, and, on the other, placed its whole 
essence in the ceremonial law both the Orthodox 
party and the Reformers claimed him as their own. 
What Kant regarded as an "irrefutable book", because 


it expressed great truths which no one had yet dared 
to voice so unequivocally, a large majority denounced 
as mere sophistry. It is noteworthy, however, that 
he was the first German Jew to preach the gospel of 
brotherhood, as the following passage from his "Jeru- 
salem" indicates: 

"Thank the God of your fathers ; thank God, who is 
love and compassion itself, that the delusion is gradu- 
ally losing ground that religion can maintain itself 
only by iron might, propagate its doctrine of salvation 
only through unholy persecution and spread the con- 
ception of God, which all confessions maintain is love, 
only by means of hatred. Nations tolerate and bear 
with one another and will look leniently even upon 
you, who may yet, under a gracious Providence, which 
links the hearts of men, reap the comforts of brotherly 
love. O, my brothers, follow the example of love, 
as ye have hitherto followed the example of hatred. 
Imitate the virtues of those nations whose vices you 
have thought it needful to copy. If ye will be cher- 
ished, tolerated and spared by others, cherish, tolerate 
and spare each other! Love ye, so will ye too be 

As the jargon his co-religionists spoke was the 
dividing wall between Jews and Christians, so the 
language of their common country proved to be the 
effective instrument wherewith to raze it. The Seven 
Years' War awakened the dormant patriotism of the 
Prussians, so that the celebration of victories became 
no irksome joy. Mendelssohn joined his fellow- 
citizens in these festivities by composing patriotic 


verse and a series of sermons in honor of the glorious 
feat of arms at Rossbach, Leuten and Hubertsburg. 
These were preached in the synagogue in Berlin, by 
his old teacher, Rabbi Frankel, and at least two of 
them have been translated into English, one appearing, 
as the earliest print of a distinctive Jewish character, 
in far-off Philadelphia. 

Thus he contributed to the recognition of his own 
people as integral elements of German citizenship. 

On one occasion (1760), no doubt encouraged by 
Lessing, he went so far as to declaim against the great 
emperor's lack of national spirit, in a review of the 
latter's poetical works. That a Jew should have had 
the temerity to call his reigning sovereign to task for 
composing indifferent verse and for preferring the 
French language to his native tongue, was a deed as 
daring as unprecedented. He had already excited the 
curiosity of the court, five years before, when his 
first German bojok was published. According to Less- 
ing (see his letter to Mendelssohn, of December, 1755), 
all wanted to know "this Jew" who thought so pro- 
foundly and expressed himself so eloquently. And so 
he had come to be looked upon as the embodiment 
of wisdom. It, therefore, redounds to his credit that 
he presumed to say this of his royal master's work: 
"Nearly every stanza shows a trait of this Prince's 
character, and the whole is a portrait in which his noble 
soul, his even nobler heart, yea, his very weakness 
is faithfully limned. What a loss to our mother 
tongue that this Prince makes a more fluent use of 
French! The august author should have deemed it 
beneath his dignity to say, in his Preface: 


'My German Muse, a wonderful gibberish, 

A barbaric French 
Descants upon things as it can.' 

Can a writer to whom the present state of philosophy 
is not unknown and who shows himself everywhere to 
be a masterful and truth-loving intellect, undertake 
to dispute the doctrine of the Immortality of the 

Summoned to Sans Souci for lese majeste, on a 
Sabbath, he received absolution from the Rabbi to 
ride and appeared before Frederick the Great. Chal- 
lenged to defend his daring criticism, Mendelssohn 
neatly turned the tables on his illustrious patron, by 
the following brilliant witticism: "Whoever makes 
verse, plays at nine-pins; and whoever plays at nine- 
pins, be he king or peasant, must have the setter-up 
tell him how he bowls." The King was so taken aback 
by this bold but clever retort that, irascible though he 
generally was, he dismissed his critic without a rep- 
rimand. Possibly he feared to brave the sneers of 
the French cynics, by whom he was constantly sur- 

This review of Mendelssohn's appeared in a leading 
periodical, entitled Letters Concerning the Latest 
Literature, edited by Nicolai and himself. It attracted 
much attention, and it was through the malice of the 
author of a book which he had unfavorably criticized, 
that he was arraigned before the King and his Journal 

It was Nicolai, it will be remembered, whom he 
had met in Lessing's company, in 1755. With his 


help he acquired a proficiency in Greek and modern 
languages. Together, they studied the classics, and, 
in an incredibly short time, he had mastered his sub- 
ject so thoroughly as to be able to read all the works 
of Plato in the original. When the "Coffee-House 
of the Learned" was established, which is described 
by some one as "an oasis in the literary wilderness 
of Berlin", the three friends, Lessing, Nicolai and 
Mendelssohn became its regular patrons. It comprised 
a select circle of about one hundred men of science, 
who cheerfully admitted the young Jewish philosopher 
to membership, vouched for as he was by such literary 
stars. At their meetings, each fourth week, a paper 
on some philosophic or mathematical topic was read by 
one of their number. Mendelssohn, timid by nature 
and conscious of his unfortunate defect of speech, 
presented a written thesis "On Probability", which, 
at his request, was read for him by a friend. While 
in the cours of recitation, its authorship was promptly 
recognized, and he was enthusiastically greeted by the 
learned company. The substance of this paper was 
repeated in his celebrated Morgenstunden. 

At about this time he wrote his Letters on the Emo- 
tions, which contain a philosophy of the beautiful and 
which form the basis of all philosophical and aesthetic 
criticism in Germany. On the advice of Lessing, he 
translated Rousseau's prize essay, Discours sur 
Vinegalite parmi les Hommes, which he published with 
explanatory notes and a dedicatory letter to "Magis- 
ter" Lessing, in 1756. 

In the same year he became one of the staff editors 


of the Library of Science and Fine Arts, which had 
been founded by Nicolai. Indeed, he proved to be 
the very soul of the undertaking. He contributed a 
mass of literary material, mainly book reviews. His 
own studies on aesthetics appeared in this magazine. 
Mendelssohn, Lessing and Nicolai entered into a cor- 
respondence on this subject, in which they discussed 
the function of tragedy and its emotional manifesta- 
tions. Upon these series of epistles, which directly 
influenced Lessing's "Laokoon", were based two mon- 
ographs by Mendelssohn. One was entiled The Funda- 
mental Principles of Science and Fine Arts, and the 
other Concerning Lofty and Naive Elements in the 
Fine Arts. These publications, which were printed in 
The Library, must be ranked among the most important 
contributions to pre-Kentian aesthetics. 

Before a year had elapsed, Mendelssohn retired from 
the associate editorship of this periodical, only to join 
a new venture in the same field, again launched by 
Nicolai (about 1759). This was called Letters Con- 
cerning the Latest Literature. It was revolutionary 
in tendency and soon became the repository of the 
best thought in Germany. "The criticism which Men- 
delssohn (upon whom a large part of the editorial 
work devolved), together with Lessing, introduced, 
was creative and essentially German in character. Men- 
delssohn's judgment was always impartial, sane and 

His relations with poets and philosophers in Ger- 
many and Switzerland became more and more close 
as his fame increased. He was greatly admired for 


his literary work in the Letters, which be continued to 
edit, in conjunction with his friend, Nicolai, until 1765, 
and especially for his prize essay on Metaphysical Sci- 
ence, which had secured him an award of fifty ducats, 
in June, 1763, and an enviable victory over Thomas 
Abbt and Immanuel Kant, with whose rejected theses, 
his own was finally published. As he had won the 
esteem of one of the contestants, who later expressed 
himself in such glowing terms concerning his vivid 
literary style, so he became also the intimate friend 
of the other. At Abbt's request, Mendelssohn began 
a correspondence, in which he set forth the destiny of 
man and the life of the soul after death. This was 
published with notes and occupies nearly 200 pages 
in his Collected Works (Leipsic 1843-1845). It forms 
the basis of his chief philosophical work, the Phaedo 
(1767), the most widely read book of his time and 
considered one of the best productions of classical 
German prose. It was reprinted fifteen times and 
translated into nearly all the European languages, as 
also into Hebrew. The Crown Prince of Brunswick 
was so impressed with it that, while on a visit to his 
uncle, Frederick the Great, in Berlin, in the autumn of 
1769, he tried to induce him to come to Brunswick. 
Other members of Royalty showed him marked pref- 
erence. It is a singular fact to record that because 
the Empress Catherine of Russia wished to be elected 
a regular member of the philosophical division of the 
Berlin Academy of Sciences, to which honor Men- 
delssohn had been proposed as a candidate, the King 
of Prussia wantonly struck his name off the list. 


Among those who corresponded with Mendelssohn 
was Johann Kaspar Lavater, a preacher in Zurich, 
whose work on physiognomy has become standard. 
He had visited "the Jew Moses" in his modest lodging 
several times in 1763 and had afterwards given a very 
graphic description of "this man with the Socratic 
soul". Lessing introduced them to one another, and 
the Christian theologian, a man of varied gifts, was 
captivated by the charm of Mendelssohn's personality. 
Writing to a clerical friend, he says : "The Jew, Men- 
delssohn, author of the philosophical Letters on the 
Emotions, we found in his office, busy with silk goods. 
A companionable, brilliant soul, with pleasing ideas; 
the body of an Aesop; a man of keen insight, exqui- 
site taste and wide erudition. He is a great venerator 
of all thinking minds and himself a metaphysician; an 
impartial judge of all works of talent and taste ; frank 
and open-hearted in intercourse, more modest in his 
speech than in his writings, unaffected by praise, free 
from the tricks of meaner spirits, who aim only at 
pushing themselves into notoriety; generous, ready to 
serve his friends ; a brother to his brethren, the Jews, 
affable and respectful to them and by them honored 
and beloved." 

After their acquaintance had ripened into friendship, 
Lavater conceived the wild ambition of converting 
him to Christianity. Being repulsed by solid argu- 
ments, as well as genial irony, he soon abandoned the 
plan, only to return to it some years later, in 1769, 
when he dedicated to him his German translation of 
the work of a Geneva professor, Charles Bonnet, which 


he entitled An Enquiry into the Proofs of the Truth 
of Christianity against Unbelievers. In a prefatory 
challenge, he solemnly adjures Mendelssohn to refute 
these arguments in public if he could and, if not, to 
"do what wisdom and love of truth and understanding 
must bid him; what a Socrates would have done, if 
he had read the book and found it unanswerable." 
Mendelssohn had no choice but to take up the gaunt- 
let, and here again it was Lessing (as we know from 
his letter of 1771, addressed to his friend), who urged 
him on. His reply to Lavater is a classic in the domain 
of apologetic literature. It concludes in these mem- 
orable words: "Of all that is of the essence of my 
faith, I am so firmly and immovably convinced that 
I testify herewith, before the God of Truth and my 
Creator and Preserver, by whom you have adjured 
me, in your appeal, that I shall cleave to my principles 
so long as my soul does not change its nature." 

It is but fair to him who had so rashly provoked 
this controversy to state that, finding the consensus 
of friendly opinion against him, and sincerely con- 
vinced of his own error, Lavater regretted that he 
had "involuntarily distressed the most noble of men" 
and begged his forgiveness. A pamphlet warfare fol- 
lowed the appearance of Mendelssohn's views on the 
doctrines of Christianity, as expressed in his letters 
to Lavater, his rejoinder to Bonnet's counterblast, and 
his epistles to the Crown Prince of Brunswick. To 
all the spite and calumny called forth by them, he 
deigned to offer no reply. "Whoever is so obviously 
anxious to irritate me," he wrote to a friend, "ought 

( From an old woodcu t ) 


to have much difficulty in succeeding." Among his 
few defenders in this fight, may be mentioned with 
honor Professor Michaelis and the celebrated satirist, 
Lichtenberg, both of Gottingen. The Crown Prince 
of Brunswick, one of his ardent admirers, in a letter 
to him, dated January 2, 1770, expresses his astonish- 
ment that he should have been "able to dispose of so 
delicate a situation with such tact and exalted brotherly 

Mentally exhausted by these disputations, he went, 
in July of 1773 and 1774, to Pyrmont for his health, 
where he became acquainted with Herder, who, noting 
his popularity, remarked that "Mordecai had as large 
a following as the grand vizier." 

Mendelssohn's warfare with Lavater and his ad- 
vocates made a deep impression upon Lessing. He was 
greatly incensed at the cocksureness of these expon- 
ents of orthodox Christianity. An opportunity soon 
presented itself to him to enter the theological arena. 
His friend, the earnest scholar, Herrmann Samuel 
Reimarus (1694-1768), exasperated by the intrigues of 
the Lutheran pastors in Hamburg, who aggressively 
proclaimed their fossilized creed, had written A De- 
fense of the Rational Worshipers of God, which re- 
jected all revealed religion and especially attacked the 
founder of Christianity. He lacked the courage to pub- 
lish it and left it as an heirloom to his high-minded 
and talented daughter, Elisa Reimarus. She submitted 
it to Lessing, who read it with eager interest, but, not 
wishing to trust his own judgment in matters of the- 
ology, he consulted Mendelssohn before giving it to 


the world. Although the latter tried to dissuade his 
friend from printing it, as he found in the work 
nothing constructive and believed that it would only 
provoke violent antagonism, Lessing was of the opinion 
that it would prove effective in rebuking the pride of 
the Church. Baffled by the Berlin censors, who did 
not approve a work that was so obviously a firebrand, 
he hit upon another plan. In assuming charge of 
the Ducal Library in Wolfenbiittel, he had acquired 
the privilege of editing the manuscript treasures of that 
noted collection. He pretended to have discovered 
the "Fragments of an Unknown" and began to publish 
the original Reimarus manuscript as an anonymous 
treatise, in serial form, extending over a period of eight 
years (1773-1781). One instalment of these Wolfen- 
biittel Fragments was a vigorous and revolutionary ex- 
pose of Christianity, designed to prove that Jesus and 
his disciples had conceived a conspiracy against the 
Sanhedrin and, when finally detected, were forced to 
declare that the kingdom they had striven to establish 
was not a temporal but a heavenly one. 

This novel and audacious treatment of the early be- 
ginnings of the faith created a sensation. The clergy 
and laity alike were staggered by it. Indeed, the ef- 
fect was so momentous that many students of the- 
ology promptly abandoned their seminary courses, 
rather than follow a vocation predicated on error. 
Speculation as to the identity of the mysterious scribe 
was rife. Even Mendelssohn was openly charged with 
its authorship. Only a few were aware that the writer 
was the estimable Reimarus. It goes without saying 


that public wrath vented itself upon Lessing, who had 
no partisans, save his Jewish friend, and he would 
not venture to step into the breach in a quarrel which 
he regarded as a domestic affair. 

Lessing, writing to his brother, under date of Feb- 
ruary 25th, and to the author's daughter, on June 
22nd, 1780, mentions the fact that one of the malicious 
lies circulated by his enemies was that the rich Jew- 
ish congregation in Amsterdam had presented him with 
one thousand ducats for his performance. Long since 
accustomed to fight his own battles, it did not take 
him long to completely vanquish his enemies, notably 
the vindicative orthodox pastor, Goze, to whom he 
directed his celebrated polemical letters entitled Anti- 

As his opponents could not meet the arguments 
against Christianity advanced by the anonymous free- 
lance, they resorted to the power of the secular arm. 
As a consequence, in 1778, Lessing was interdicted 
from publishing further instalments; his previous 
pamphlets were confiscated ; he was obliged to sur- 
render the original manuscripts; the liberty of the 
press was withheld from him; and the injunction laid 
upon him not to write anything more on the subject. 
He protested vigorously against these high-handed 
measures, but, as his livelihood was at stake, he was 
forced to submit. But even then he was planning a 
noble revenge. In one of his sleepless nights, he tells 
us, in a letter written on August 10, 1778, he recalled 
a rough draft he had made, many years before, of a 
dramatic poem, based upon an episode in Boccaccio, 


which, he calculated, would bring more confusion in- 
to the ranks of the Lutheran zealots than another 
series of "Fragments" from Wolfenbiittel. 

The creation of Nathan the Wise was, therefore, 
the result of a natural reaction. It fully accomplished 
its purpose. It confounded the insular Christian 
pietists who arrogated to themselves all the virtues 
of their faith and looked upon the Jews with revulsion 
and disdain. 

"When Lessing selected a Jew to be the hero of his 
grandest play, the innovation was so unheard of as 
to make his courage more striking perhaps than any 
act he ever performed and he was the most in- 
trepid of men. 'Nathan the Wise' was written late 
in life, when Lessing's philosophy had ripened, and 
when his spirit, sorely tried in every way, had gained 
from sad experience only sweeter humanity. Judged 
by rules of art, it is easy to find fault with it, but 
one is impatient at any attempt to measure it by 
such a trivial* standard. It is thrilled from first to 
last by a glowing God-sent fire such as has appeared 
rarely in the literature of the world. It teaches love 
to God and man, tolerance, the beauty of peace. 

"In Nathan, a Jew who has suffered at the hands 
of the Crusaders the extremest affliction the loss of 
his wife and seven children is not embittered by the 
experience. He, with two other leading figures, Sala- 
din and the Templar, are bound together in a close 
intimacy. They are all examples of nobleness, though 
individualized. In Nathan, severe chastening has 
brought to pass the finest gentleness and love. Saladin 


is the perfect type of chivalry, though impetuous and 
over-lavish, through the possession of great power. 
The Templar is full of the vehemence of youth. So 
they stand, side by side, patterns of admirable man- 
hood, yet representatives of creeds most deeply hos- 
tile. Thus, in concrete presentment, Lessing teaches 
impressively, what he had often elsewhere inculcated 
in a less varied way, one of the grandest lessons, that 
nobleness is bound to no confession of faith. 

"It was his thought and here many will think he 
went too far that every historic religion is in some 
sense divine, a necessary evolution, from the condi- 
tions under which it originates. What a man believes 
is a matter of utter indifference if his life is not good. 

"Goldwin Smith, in a paper in the Nineteenth Cen- 
tury, in which some injustice is done to the Jewish 
character and the facts of Jewish history, declares 
that Nathan the Wise is an impossible personage, the 
pure creation of the brain of the dramatist. Lessing, 
however, as is well known, found the suggestion for 
his superb figure in Moses Mendelssohn, and 

. there are abundant data for concluding 
that Lessing's Jew was no mere fancy sketch. It may 
be said, in truth, that the character is exceptional, and 
that Jews, as the world knows them, are something 
quite different. But among the votaries of what 
creed, pray, would not such a character be excep- 
tional! If exceptional, it is not unparalleled. 
Judaism is capable of giving birth to humane 
and tolerant spirits, even in our time, and such spirits 
are not at all unknown in its past annals." (James 


K. Hosmer, The Story of the Jews, N. Y., 1886, pp. 


It is gratifying to record the fact that it was a Jew 
who made the writing of this immortal epic possible. 
Lessing needed money. He had no friends rich enough 
to help him; nor would he accept a kindness from 
everyone. When his financial embarrassment became 
irksome, he received a loan from Moses Wessely of 
Hamburg, a brother of the celebrated Hebrew poet, 
Naphtali Hartwig Wessely, who, though by no means 
wealthy himself, cheerfully advanced as much as Less- 
ing required, asking in return only the privilege of 
possessing a letter autographed by him. 

As he had predicted, Nathan the Wise precipitated 
a veritable storm. The ire of all pious Christians 
was concentrated on it. Even the "Fragments" and 
his trenchant onslaughts upon Goze were forgotten 
in this new arraignment of the orthodox creed. They 
could overlook the ruthless character of the Patriarch, 
but not the glorification of Judaism, as portrayed in 
his exemplary Jew, at the expense of their own faith. 
Lessing's most trusted friends began to shun him, 
and this distressed him so keenly that, almost isolated 
as he was, he soon lost his jovial manner and elasti- 
city and became morose and taciturn. The last year 
of his life was embittered by this treatment. 

"He died in vigorous manhood like an aged man, a 
martyr to his love of truth. But his soul-conquering 
voice made itself heard on behalf of tolerance and 
gradually softened the discordant notes of hatred and 
prejudice. In spite of the ban placed upon 'Nathan', as 


well as upon its author, both in Protestant and Catholic 
countries, this drama became one of the most popular 
in German poetry, and as often as the verses inspired 
by conviction resound from the stage, they seize upon 
the hearts of the audience, loosening the links of the 
chain of Jew-hatred in the minds of Germans, who 
find it most difficult to throw off its shackles. 'Nathan' 
made an impression on the mind of the German people, 
which, despite unfavorable circumstances, has not been 
obliterated. Twenty years before, when Lessing pro- 
duced his first drama of 'The Jews', an arrogant the- 
ologian censured it, because it was altogether too im- 
probable that among a people like the Jews, so noble 
a character could ever be formed. At the appearance 
of 'Nathan', no reader thought that a noble Jew was 
possible. Even the most stubborn dared not assert 
so monstrous an absurdity. The Jewish ideal sage 
was a reality and lived in Berlin, an ornament not 
alone to the Jews, but to the German nation. With- 
out Mendelssohn, the drama of 'Nathan' would not 
have been written, just as without Lessing's friend- 
ship Mendelssohn would not have become what he did 
to German literature and the Jewish world. The cor- 
diality of the intimacy between these two friends 
showed itself after Lessing's death. His brothers 
and friends, who only after his demise realized his 
greatness, turned, in the anguish of their loss, to Men- 
delssohn, as if it were natural that he should be the 
chief mourner. And in very sooth he was; none of 
his associates preserved Lessing's memory with so sor- 
rowful a remembrance and religious a reverence. He 


was beyond all things solicitous to protect his former 
friend against misapprehension and slander." 

Though Mendelssohn was spared the cruel fate of 
his life-long friend and did not live to see his cherished 
ideals ground into the dust by the apostacy of his 
nearest of kin, he suffered a mortal hurt when he 
learned from the poet's friend, Jacobi, to whom as 
well as to Herder, he had confided the plan of erecting 
a worthy literary memorial to Lessing, that toward 
the end of his days, he had openly professed Spino- 
zism. To one who ardently cleaved to the idea of a 
personal God, Providence and the immortality of the 
soul, it seemed almost inconceivable that a dear com- 
rade, who had never hidden the thoughts of his heart, 
should have dissembled his convictions. He imagined 
that if Lessing had looked askance at his philosophy, 
it would perhaps soon become obsolete. These re- 
flections interfered with his peace of mind and made 
him restive and petulant. 

Although in his last work, the Morgenstunden, or 
"Lectures on the Existence of God", originally de- 
livered, in 1785, to his son and other Jewish and 
Christian students, including the two Humboldts, he 
simulated a tranquility he did not feel, he became so 
unnerved by the strain of a rejoinder he was writing 
to Jacobi's book, wherein he was attacked and chal- 
lenged, that he finally succumbed. 

This literary apology, entitled To the Friends of 
Lessing, proved to be his Swan Song. On the very 
day he handed the manuscript to his publisher, he 
caught cold and a stroke of apoplexy brought his 
eventful and glorious life to a close (January 4, 1786). 


He died, as he had lived, a valiant champion in the 
cause of righteousness, a loyal and devoted friend. 
One is reminded of that sword of a truly faithful 
knight, on which was graven the device: "Never 
draw me without right; never sheathe me without 

The Prussian capital and all the world mourned 
the loss of a man upon whose like they were not soon 
to look again. The great Kant, lamenting in sorrow, 
exc.aimed: "Ah, there was but one Mendelssohn!" 
His Christian friends, Nicolai, Biester and Engel, the 
last a tutor of Crown Prince Frederick III, petitioned 
to erect a memorial to him, on the public square, fac- 
ing the Royal Opera House, and, while this did not 
materialize, it is a satisfaction to record that the 
city of Dessau, where he was born, reared him a 
monument, on the occasion of the one hundredth an- 
niversary of his birth, and that his great-grandson 
commemorated his career by establishing a founda- 
tion of one hundred and fifty thousand marks in his 
honor, at the University of Berlin. The Union of 
German Jewish congregations issued a Lessing-Men- 
delssohn Memorial Book (Leipsic, 1879) in celebra- 
tion of the centenary of "Nathan the Wise", containing 
literary tributes from the pen of many gifted writers. 

Lessing died on February 15, 1781. Though in 
his last years he had written to Mendelssohn but sel- 
dom, we have the entire correspondence which passed 
between these two ideal friends preserved intact. 
Practically all the letters have been published. They 
present an example of literary friendship seldom paral- 


leled in history. It is noteworthy that some of these 
letters to Lessing were written on the eve of the Sab- 
bath. Mendelssohn was frequently obliged to break 
off abruptly, so as not to violate the sanctity of the 
day. Once he deplored the fact that the oncoming 
Sabbath prevented him from hastening to his stricken 
friend in Wolfenbiittel. In these trifles, as in mat- 
ters more vital and grave, he showed himself a sincere 
and steadfast Jew, faithful to the behests of his 

Happily, he lived to see the dawn of the era of 
emancipation for his people, whose ethical conscious- 
ness he had helped, together with Lessing, to vitalize 
and stimulate. It must never be forgotten that Les- 
sing awakened Mendelssohn to the realization of his 
mission and that, through him, the illustrious poet 
liberated Judaism from the self-imposed fetters of the 



It will be recalled that Lessing's theological duel 
with Goze was over the essence of religion. In 
"Nathan" the poet designed to typify, in living and 
tangible form, the elemental conditions of religion. He 
embodied in his characters, without meaning to do so, 
the pivotal questions in this controversy. It may 
therefore be said that polemics helped to give to the 
world this wonderful didactic poem, which the author 
called the "son of his advancing old age". But, it 
must be understood that it was not inspired by his 
disputation with Goze. Those who would read any 
such meaning into the drama have not inquired into 
its origin. As already stated, it had been conceived 
long before he knew the Hamburg pastor. In a letter 
to his brother, he said that it was a theme which he 
had sketched out many years ago. Perhaps the be- 
ginnings of his plan may be traced back to the first 
period of his literary activity. 

One of Lessing's achievements was to disinter long- 
forgotten characters in history and to rescue them 
from oblivion. Among those whom he had thus re- 
instated was Hieronymus Cardanus, an Italian phil- 
osopher of the sixteenth century, who, in his De Sub- 



tilitate, compares the four religions of the world 
the Pagan, Jewish, Christian and Moslem. His work 
took the form of a colloquy, in which each speaker 
defends his own creed against others. It was charged 
that Christianity was accorded the humblest place in 
the author's estimate. Lessing controverts this view. 
Indeed, he maintains that the Jews and Mohamme- 
dans do not receive adequate treatment. Had Lessing 
been pleading their cause, he would have made out 
quite a different case for these two religions; and in 
his essay on Cardanus, he proceeds to sketch out a 
little plan of defense for them. This recalls the lead- 
ing motive of the poem. The Christian, Jewish and 
Mohammedan religions enter the lists against one 
another. Each one is called upon to speak on its own 
behalf, in such a way that the anti-Christian religions 
may have full justice done them. It is natural that 
the thought of presenting the subject dramatically 
should have occurred to him at that time. 

However, we know, from his own statement, that 
he derived his inspiration for the story of the three 
rings from Boccaccio's "Decameron", the text of which 
we give in full, later. Yet there is one important dif- 
ference between Lessing and Boccaccio. With the 
latter, the ring is only a jewel, entitling the possessor 
to nothing but the inheritance and the position of head 
of the family. With Lessing, on the contrary, it bears 
a higher significance : it had the secret power of giv- 
ing favor, in sight of God and man, to him who wore 
it with a believing heart. In "Nathan", the ring bears 
a certain charm. The wearer is destined to win all 


hearts. "Only he who sows love, reaps love. He 
who receives the most love, because he has given the 
most, is undoubtedly in possession of the true ring. 
But all three are disputing. Each considers himself 
the favored one and the others impostors. Each one 
hates the others. So long as this intolerant, selfish 
strife continues, the treasure of love is not among 
them; so long the true ring remains undiscovered; 
so long all three that are produced are counterfeit. 
And how if the true ring should declare itself? If 
its power should begin to work? Then one is the 
most beloved and must, therefore, have earned love; 
it must have conquered the hearts of the others. And 1 
if one is the best beloved, there must be love and, 
therefore, purity of heart, in the others. Each one 
will, in proportion to his power of sdlf-renunciation, 
love his neighbor, understand his views and practise 

This is the main drift of the parable, and it can 
readily be seen that Lessing's presentation far trans- 
cends the original in Boccaccio. 

In order to enable the reader to judge for himself 
the contrast between the two versions, we let Boc- 
caccio speak for himself: 

"Saladin was so brave and great a man, that he 
had raised himself from an inconsiderable station, to 
be Sultan of Babylon and had gained many victories 
over both Turkish and Christian princes. This mon- 
arch, having in divers wars, and by many extraordin- 
ary expenses, run through all his treasure, some ur- 
gent occasion fell out that he wanted a large sum of 


money. Not knowing which way he might raise 
enough to answer his necessities, he at last called to 
mind a rich Jew of Alexandria, named Melchizedeck, 
who let out money at interest. Him he believed to 
have wherewithal to serve him; but then he was so 
covetous, that he would never do it willingly, and 
Saladin was loath to force him. But, as necessity 
has no law, after much thinking which way the mat- 
ter might best be effected, he at last resolved to use 
force under some colour of reason. He, therefore, 
sent for the Jew, received him in a most gracious 
manner, and making him sit down, thus addressed 
him: 'Worthy man, I hear from divers persons that 
thou art very wise and knowing in religious matters ; 
wherefore I would gladly know from thee which 
religion thou judgest to be the true one, viz. the Jew- 
ish, the Mohammedan, or the Christian?' The Jew 
(truly a wise man) found that Saladin had a mind to 
trap him, and must gain his point should he exalt any 
one of the three religions above the others ; after con- 
sidering, therefore, for a little how best to avoid the 
snare, his ingenuity at last supplied him with the fol- 
lowing answer: 

"The question which your Highness has proposed is 
very curious ; and, that I may give you my sentiments, 
I must beg leave to tell a short story. I remember 
often to have heard of a great and rich man, who, 
among his most rare and precious jewels, had a ring 
of exceeding beauty and value. Being proud of pos- 
sessing a thing of such worth and desirous that it 
should continue forever in his family, he declared, 


by will, that whichsoever of his sons he should give 
this ring, him he designed for his heir, and that he 
should be respected as the head of the family. That 
son to whom the ring was given, made the same law 
with respect to his descendants, and the ring passed 
from one to another in long succession, till it came 
to a person who had three sons, all virtuous and duti- 
ful to their father, and all equally beloved by him. 
Now the young men, knowing what depended upon 
the ring, and ambitious of superiority, began to en- 
treat their father, who was now grown old, every one 
for himself, that he would give the ring to him. The 
good man, equally fond of all, was at a loss which to 
prefer; and, as he had promised all and wished to 
satisfy all, he privately got an artist to make two 
other rings, which were so like the first, that he him- 
self scarcely knew the true one. When he found his 
end approaching, he secretly gave one ring to each 
of his sons ; and they, after his death, all claimed the 
honour and estate, each disputing with his brothers, 
and producing his ring; and the rings were found so 
much alike, that the true one could not be dis- 
tinguished. To law then they went, as to which should 
succeed, nor is that question yet decided. And thus it 
has happened, my Lord, with regard to the three laws 
given by God the Father, concerning which you pro- 
posed your question : every one believes he is the true 
heir of God, has his law, and obeys his command- 
ments ; but which is in the right is uncertain, in like 
manner as with the rings/ 

Saladin perceived that the Jew had very cleverly 


escaped the net which was spread for him; he, there- 
fore, resolved to discover his necessity to him, and 
see if he would lend him money, telling him at the 
same time what he had designed to do, had not that 
discreet answer prevented him. The Jew freely sup- 
plied the monarch with what he wanted ; and Saladin 
afterwards paid him back in full, made him large 
presents, besides maintaining him nobly at his court, 
and was his friend as long as he lived." 

It is claimed that Boccaccio derived his story from 
a celebrated collection of Italian tales, composed in 
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, entitled Cento 
Novelle Antiche, whose author is not known, although 
they have been ascribed, without adequate proof, to 
Dante, Brunetto Latini and Francesco Barberini. 
While some scholars maintain, from internal evidence, 
that the Novelle had a single author, a Florentine 
merchant, one is obliged to conclude, for sufficient 
reasons, that this is not the case. The greater part 
of the material describes incidents from the second 
half of the thirteenth century. It may be accepted, 
on the authority of Dr. Marcus Landau, who wrote 
a fascinating book on "The Sources of the Decame- 
ron", that the stories were collected in the second 
quarter of the fourteenth century, possibly after Boc- 
caccio's death. Of course, it is probable that the lat- 
ter used a great deal of the matter contained in the 
"Novelle", which was circulated as oral tradition, 
but it is quite safe to assume that he had no complete 
written text before him, certainly not in collected 
form, especially as manuscripts of these stories were 


always exceedingly rare and have only recently been 
discovered. Up to the present time, no copy of a 
dated edition from the fifteenth century has been 
located. The first edition appeared in Bologna in 1525, 
and the second in Florence, in 1572. 

There is, in the "Novelle", a brief and naive version 
of the story of Saladin and the Jew, which Boccaccio 
may or may not have seen. It tells of a Sultan, who, 
being in need of money, determined to find some fault 
with a rich Jew who was in his dominions and de- 
prive him of his extensive property. Accordingly the 
Sultan sent for the Jew and demanded to know which 
was the true faith, designing that if he should reply 
"the Jewish", to say "you are blaspheming against my 
religion" and if he should answer "The Moslem", to re- 
tort "why are you then a Jew?" When the Jew saw 
himself thus cornered, he took refuge in this parable : 
"There was a father who had three sons. He had a 
ring with a precious stone, the most valuable in the 
world. Each of the sons besought his father to be- 
queath to him this ring; the father, seeing that each 
of them was desirous of having it, sent for a skilful 
goldsmith and caused him to make two rings so like 
the original that no one but himself could tell the 
difference. Then he sent for his sons in turn and gave 
them each a ring, but none of them knew which was 
the true one. "And thus" concluded the Jew, "I answer 
as regards the three religions. Our Father on High 
knows, and we who are the sons each believe we pos- 
sess the true ring." The Sultan, baffled by the Jew's 
ingenuity, knew not what to reply, and decided to let 
him go unmolested. 


Landau does not agree that this is the prototype 
of the Boccaccio story, but contends that its more 
immediate source is the Awenturoso Ciciliano, com- 
posed by Busone de' Rafaelli, of Gubbio, commonly 
called Bosone or Busone. He was born about 1280 
and died in 1350. He is known to have been a friend 
of Dante and of the Hebrew poet Immanuel of Rome 
(sometimes called Manoello), with whom he exchanged 
complimentary sonnets. Busone's account is as fol- 
lows : 

"Ansalon the Jew dwelt in Babylon, and was enor- 
mously rich, and I would have you to know that 
throughout the whole universe the Jews are hated and 
have no country nor Lord. It happened that Saladin 
was in want of money on account of a war he was car- 
rying on against the Christians, and was advised that 
he should take the money of Ansalon the Jew. He 
sent for him and said, 'Ansalon, I have sent for 
you to tell me what Faith (Law) is the best, yours 
or mine, or that of the Christians ?' Now, Saladin had 
it in mind that if the Jew should praise his own re- 
ligion he would say, 'You are insulting mine,' and in 
like manner, if the Jew should praise the Christian 
religion, and if he should give blame to his own, he 
(Saladin) would hold him a traitor to Judaism, and 
thus in any case determined to deprive him of his 
money. Ansalon wisely replied, 'The answer must be 
the same as that of the rich nobleman who had a 
valuable ring, and being at the point of death, each 
of his three sons desiring to have it, secretly begged 
it of him. The father was minded to give it to the 


oldest, but the others, by their deceptive words and 
by putting before him their reasons why they should 
have the ring, tried to persuade him to give it to them, 
and he was unable to give them denial. He accord- 
ingly had two other rings made exactly resembling 
the true one, but of no value, and had them placed 
in two boxes exactly alike, and calling his sons before 
him he gave to each one separately a ring, so that 
each believed he had received the true ring, but only 
one had it, and this one was designated his heir. 

In like manner there are three notable Faiths, the 
one yours, another mine, the third that of the Chris- 
tians. One is the real one and the others are naught ; 
which is which I do not know, but the adherents of 
each of these three religions believes his to be the only 
true one, as the three sons each believed he possessed 
the true ring.' 

Saladin, hearing this, changed his mind and released 
the Jew." 

Attention might here be called to the allegory in 
Swift's "Tale of a Tub", wherein the incident of a 
father presenting each of his three sons with a new 
coat is plainly a satire on the Church of Rome, Pro- 
testantism and Dissenters, without any reference to 
the truth of any particular religion. 

It will be perceived that Busone's narrative is sub- 
stantially identical with the one in the Novelle, which 
he embellishes here and there not without offense to 
good taste. All things considered, the form in which 
we find it in the "Decameron" appears to be the most 
acceptable. In the "Novelle", it is very curtly stated 


that the Sultan was in financial difficulties, whereas, 
in Busone's version, money is needed for war against 
the Christians. In Boccaccio, the emptiness of the 
treasury is due to his love of luxury and campaigns, 
but it is not clearly indicated for what purpose he has 
further need of funds. In the "Novelle", no attempt 
is made to excuse the plunder of the Jew, while Bu- 
sone mentions the fact that the Jews are everywhere 
despised, which furnishes a motive. Boccaccio is too 
tolerant to make use of this motive and pictures the 
Jew, Melchizedek, as a miserly usurer, in order to 
exonerate the Sultan for his design. In the "Novelle", 
the person of the Jew is of no consequence. He 
serves merely as an incident in the recital. In Busone 
and Boccaccio, on the other hand, one is subtly pre- 
judiced against him, to justify the Sultan's crafty pro- 
cedure. In the "Novelle", the Jew is confronted 
with the embarrassing alternative of choosing between 
the Jewish and Mohammedan religions; although a 
general query as to which religion is the best is pro- 
pounded by the monarch. It is notable that in his 
answer the Jew mentions also the Christian religion. 
In one edition, he says: "I say the same of all three 
religions. Our heavenly Father knows which is the 
best. The sons, that is to say, we, believe that each 
of us possesses the best." In another version, both 
in the printed and manucript copies, he is credited 
with saying : "This much I will say, gracious master, 
that I know it not either and, therefore, cannot tell 
you." The presentation in the "Novelle" is much 
more probable than that in Busone and Boccaccio, 


where the Sultan asks the Jew which of the three 
religions is the best. The "Novelle" speaks only of the 
Sultan and does not mention the Jew by name, where- 
as in the other two accounts, the Sultan of Babylon 
and Jews with biblical names are specifically indicated. 
The former uses the word "faith" ; the latter the word 
"law", for religion. In the former, the Jew applies 
his parable to the three religions by inference only; 
while, in the latter, he makes his point clearly and 

It is interesting to note, in passing, that in the 
"Novelle" the story runs to 230 words; in Busone 
to 100 more ; and in the "Decameron", it is expanded 
to 740. 

A very curious tale, somewhat analogous to our 
parable, exemplifying Saladin's indecision in matters 
of religion, may be read in Jans Enenkel's Weltbuch 
(1190-1251), quoted by Landau and by A. C. Lee, 
in his exhaustive study on "The Decameron : its Sources 
and Analogues" (London, 1909), to both of whom 
we are indebted for much valuable information as to 
parallels. This mediaeval chronicler relates that 
Saladin, having almost impoverished himself by his 
generosity [a trait strikingly brought out in the Less- 
ing drama], became dangerously ill. On being told 
by his physicians that he could not live, he became 
very sorrowful and anxious for his soul. He thought 
if he embraced Mohammedanism he would be scorning 
Christianity, the faith of the people who held their 
God as the most powerful, whilst at the same time 
the Jews thought the same of their God. Finally, he 


decided to give his soul to the Deity that would af- 
ford him the greatest protection. He had also a most 
valuable table, made of a large sapphire, which he 
desired to dispose of in the same way, but as he was 
unable to arrive at a decision on the point, he had the 
table divided into three parts and bequeathed a part 
to each of the three Churches the Christian, the Mo- 
hammedan and the Jewish saying: "the one that is 
the most powerful will assist me." 

An exclusively Christian coloring is given to a sim- 
ilar parable, to be found in the eighty-ninth chapter 
of the celebrated collection of monkish tales, entitled 
Gesta Romanorum, dating presumably, from the first 
half of the thirteenth century, although they did not 
receive their present form until two hundred years 

It is here recorded that a Knight had three sons, 
to the oldest of whom he left his estate, while the 
second received a treasure and the third a costly ring, 
exceeding aft the others in value. He gave to each 
of the two older sons two rings similar to the genuine 
original. Upon the father's death, the sons began to 
quarrel over the genuineness of the rings. In order 
to ascertain which was the original gift, each decided 
to put its power to the test. The results showed that 
the ring of the youngest son had the art of curing all 
diseases, whereas those of the older brothers posses- 
sed no magical properties. The moral appended to 
this tale is thus expounded: "The judge is God; the 
estate of the oldest son is the Holy Land, which the 
Jews possess ; the second son's treasure represents the 


temporal glory of the Saracens; but the ring of the 
youngest son is the Christian religion, which can heal 
all diseases and move mountains." 

It is now generally accepted that the oldest Chris- 
tian source of the parable is found in the work of 
Etienne de Bourbon, a Dominican monk, who died 
about 1261, entitled "The Seven Gifts of the Holy 

"I have heard", he says, "from a wise man this 
example of the demonstration of the true faith. A 
rich man had a ring in which was set a precious stone 
that had the virtue of curing all maladies. He had 
a wife who had given him one legitimate daughter. 
Later on, 'corrupta a leonibus f , she gave birth to 
several others that passed for legitimate children with- 
out being so. He, however, was not ignorant of the 
truth, and dying left a will bequeathing the ring to 
his legitimate daughter and his property to her who 
should have this ring. Calling his daughter to him, 
he gave her this ring and died. The other children, 
knowing this, had similar rings made. When the will 
was opened before the judge, each one showed her 
ring and claimed to be the legitimate daughter, but 
the judge being a wise man, caused the healing quali- 
ties of the ring to be tested, and finding none in two 
of them, awarded the inheritance to the daughter 
whose ring had proved itself to be the true one. It 
is to be inferred from this narrative that it is the 
Christian religion that is symbolized by the true ring, 
although no actual reference is made to the different 


An almost contemporaneous variant is the French 
poem Li dis dou vrai aniel (elsewhere styled, Dit du 
vrai anneau), composed somewhere between 1270 and 
1299, and edited by Adolph Tobler, from a Paris MS., 
in 1871. 

Here the story is of a valiant and good man who 
lived in Egypt and had three sons, the two oldest of 
dissolute life, the youngest being a saintly man. This 
father had a ring which had the art of healing all 
disease and of restoring the dead to life. He had two 
other rings made by a jeweler exactly like the first 
one. On his death-bed he gives a ring to each of his 
sons, the true one to the youngest, to whom he re- 
vealed its secret powers. On the father's demise each 
son claimed to be in possession of the true ring, which, 
however, on their being put to the proof, is found to 
be in the keeping of the youngest son. 

The author of this notable version, which presents 
so striking a resemblance to the original of the Italian 
novelists, shows in conclusion that the three rings are 
symbolical of the Christian, Mohammedan and Jew- 
ish religions, the first being the only true one. 

It is quite evident that both of these accounts are 
derived from a common source, namely the Gesta 
Romanorum, the authorship of which, though still 
obscure, is generally accredited to a Benedictine prior, 
Petrus Berchorius, who died at Paris, 1362. 

In the long list of analogues, we find, in the Arabian 
Nights, the story of the Sultan who had a ring, which 
was regarded as the symbol of the caliphate. When 
his brother demanded it, Haroun al Rashid, the mon- 


arch in question, cast it into the Tigris. Upon the 
brother's death, the monarch threw a leaden ring into 
the river, and the divers brought the genuine original 
back to him. 

A legend identical in some respects with our own, 
is said to be found in an Arabic work of the early 
Middle Ages, entitled Nuzhetol-Udeba. The germ of 
the parable is also contained in Thaalabi's Arabic 
History of the Persian Kings, composed about 1017- 
22. A Persian king gives to each of his three favor- 
ite staves a costly ring, by means of which they are 
to recognize which of them he loves the most. This, 
however, presents merely a curious variant, and it is 
possible that the author suppressed the natural ap- 
plication which we have in the accepted versions. 

In the first-named Oriental parallel, it is related 
that a Christian, a Mohammedan and a Jew, who 
traveled together, found a small loaf of bread, which 
scarcely sufficed for any one of them. They decided 
that it should belong to him who would have the most 
singular dream. The Mohammedan dreams that he 
is in heaven, the Christian that he is in hell, and the 
Jew very properly eats the bread while the other 
two are asleep. This curious narrative is likewise 
borrowed from the Gesta Romanorum and has its 
counterpart in a story in the Disciplina Clericalis, or 
"A Training School for the Clergy", one of the most 
popular collection of tales of the Middle Ages, com- 
posed by Petrus Alfonsi (1062 to mo), physician- 
in-ordinary to King Alfonso of Castile, who embraced 
Christianity in his forty-fifth year and whose work 
is a rich mine for all students of folklore. 


It is clear that Boccaccio intended his account to 
be a satire against the monkish order, about whose 
doings he, more than any of his predecessors, has 
written with keen relish and irresistible humor. Bu- 
sone tells, in one of his stories, that Saladin, in the 
course of his journey through Europe, visited Rome 
and when he perceived the vices of the high digni- 
taries of the church, he said: 

"The priests do exactly what they should not do, 
and avarice has become second nature to them. But 
the offenses and crimes of the Pope, the Cardinals 
and the Roman courtiers prove to me conclusively 
that the Christian religion is the best of all, for the 
Supreme Being who can tolerate such insults is as- 
suredly the most gracious and compassionate. I clear- 
ly perceive that the God of the Christians is undoubt- 
edly the kindest and most long-suffering, for another 
God would not permit such actions on the part of his 
followers. It, therefore, appears that Christianity is 
the best of all religions." 

Boccaccio makes of this short anecdote one of the 
best novels of his whole collection. With wonderful 
skill Busone's narrative is shorn of its blasphemy, 
only to make the charge against the clergy all the 
more caustic and irrefutable. He depicts the Jew 
as an honest and pious creature, in order to convince 
us of the sincerity of his naive conclusion. That he 
makes the Jew, instead of Saladin, the teller of the 
story has a very beneficial effect. Although the fable 
of the Sultan's journey through Europe was uni- 
versally credited in the fourteenth century, it should 


be noted that more than a hundred years had elapsed 
since the monarch's death. Boccaccio, however, whose 
purpose was to chastise the corrupt clergy of his day, 
could not very well set back his story and was ob- 
liged to parade Saladin as a leading figure. Had he 
simply substituted a Mohammedan, his narrative 
would not have had the interest and probability that 
it has in its present form, for it speaks of a Jew 
with whom the Italians of his time had the oppor- 
tunity of coming into daily contact. 

It may be mentioned that Benvenuto Rambaldi of 
Imola, in his Commentary to Dante's "Divine 
Comedy", mentions the parable, suggesting the in- 
ference that he and Boccaccio derived it from a com- 
mon source. However, Rambaldi was Boccaccio's 
pupil, so that it is quite natural to suppose that he 
was familiar with his master's work, as indeed is ap- 
parent from the use he makes of other stories in the 

The tale has passed into other Italian, French and 
German collections of a later date, notably facetiae, 
a number of which are mentioned in some detail by 
Lee, in his painstaking work on the Decameron (Lon- 
don, 1909). The bibliography on the subject is so 
extensive as to require a separate investigation. 

In a note to the English translation of the "De- 
cameron", reference is made to an anonymous work, 
of the authorship of which Boccaccio has been ac- 
cused, entitled, De Tribus Impostoribus, composed in 
the sixteenth century, frequently published, concern- 
ing which there has been much controversy. There, 


as in numerous similar controversial works, notably 
in Jean Bodin's very remarkable Colloquium hepta- 
plomeres (XVIc), where the Jew is given preferen- 
tial treatment, in a discussion with six other person- 
ages of various faiths, the three religions are com- 
pared, but it is not stated whether the parable is men- 
tioned. The great Jewish bibliographer, Moritz 
Steinschneider, has written a very exhaustive treatise 
on the "Polemic and Apologetic Literature in the 
Arabic language between Moslems, Christians and 
Jews", based, primarily, on manuscript sources, and 
published in Leipsic, 1877, which gives a complete 
analysis of the whole subject of controversy between 
the three leading religions. It is a work of stupend- 
ous industry, covering 470 pages, which should be 
studied in connection with our theme. 

The editor's note, in the English version of Boc- 
caccio, further states that this particular novel prob- 
ably originated in some rabbinical tradition. That 
his surmise is* correct will be proven in the sequel. 

It is not generally known that there are two singu- 
larly close parallels to our story, in Jewish literature. 
The first account is taken from a work by Solomon 
Ibn Verga, a Spanish historian and physician, who 
lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and 
whose Shebet Yehudah contains an account of sixty- 
four persecutions of the Jews and narrates many re- 
ligious disputations. It was first printed in Turkey 
about 1550 and has been translated into several mod- 
ern languages. While the historical value of the data 
contained in his book has been seriously questioned 


by scholars, and it is assumed that the account of some 
of the controversies he gives is fictitious, there are 
valuable traditions preserved in it which make it of 
prime importance to students of history and folklore. 
The author knew Latin and derived much of his ma- 
terial from secular sources. It is quite conceivable 
that the story he tells was current in his day and 
may with propriety be credited as dating from the 
early part of the twelfth century. 

As it presents a somewhat novel setting and brings 
before us another enlightened monarch, whose broad 
tolerance in matters of religion is worth noting, we 
feel justified in giving the passages which directly in- 
terest us in full, especially since the text is not readily 
accessible to the ordinary reader: 

A disputation once took place between King Don 
Pedro, the Elder, and Nicholas the Wise, of Valencia. 
The latter said: "I understand, Sire, that it is thy 
gracious will to proceed against the infidel, who are 
thine enemies. But, why does our monarch war 
against foes from without and neglect measures against 
those within, namely, the Jews, whose hatred toward 
us is so intense that it is enjoined in their Scriptures 
that they may not even greet us ?* I have heard from 
one who knew this people well that when a Jew meets 
a Christian, he exclaims: 'I salute thee, my Lord; 
may God protect thee!' But, upon leaving him, he 
utters imprecations against him." 

*Many statements may be adduced from the Rabbinical 
writings to prove the falsity of these malicious charges. 
Suffice it to refer to a passage in the Mishnah, Abot 4, 20, 
where it is distinctly said that one is obliged to give a 
friendly salutation to every man. 


"Hast thou heard this with thine own ears?" de- 
manded the King. 

"Verily," rejoined Nicholas. "I have this from 
the mouth of one who came over to our faith." 

The King: "One who changes his religion cannot 
be believed, for it is an easy matter for him to change 
his words as well. Furthermore, the hatred which is 
expressed, by reason of a difference in faith, is im- 
material, inasmuch as only the love for one's own is 
intended to be emphasized." 

Nicholas : "Nothing angers me more than the in- 
solence of those who have the temerity to cast into 
thy face the charge that thy religious convictions are 

The King: "Well then, let a Jewish sage be sum- 
moned, whom we shall question." 

When the Jew was brought into his presence, asked 
the King: "What is thy name?" 

"Ephraim ben Sancho," answered the Jew. 

"It appears that thou hast two distinct names. 
Ephraim stamps thee a Jew and Sancho a Christian." 

Thereupon rejoined the Jew : "My Lord and Sire, 
Sancho is my, family name." 

"Did I desire kinship with thee, that thou givest 
me thy family name?" said the King. 

The Jew: "My Lord and King, I merely added 
Sancho as a means of identification, since there are 
many here who bear the name of Ephraim, and it 
seemed that it was the wish of my Lord and King 
to know who I was, in that he has graciously inquired 
after my name." 

"Let us dismiss the subject!" said the King. "Thou 
hast been brought into my presence to furnish testi- 
mony as to which of the two religions be the better, 
the Christian or thine own." 

^ The sage replied : "My religion is better for me, in 
view of my present circumstances, since I was once 


a slave in Egypt, and the Almighty hath rescued me 
by signs and miracles. Thy religion, however, is bet- 
ter for thee, since it is the dominant one." 

"But I am concerned chiefly with the religions 
themselves and not with their professors," answered 
the King. 

"By the King's gracious leave, I will deliberate 
upon this problem three days and will then render 
decision," replied the Jew. 

The King granted this, and, at the expiration of 
the time, the sage returned, but seemed to be restive 
and downcast. To the monarch's query: "Why art 
thou so dispirited?" he replied: 

"They have scorned me to-day, without cause, since 
I have committed no wrong, and it now rests with 
thee, Sire, to probe into the matter. A month ago, 
one of my neighbors went on a journey, leaving a 
precious stone to each of his two sons, as a parting 
gift, and now the brothers appealed to me to explain 
to them the peculiar properties of these jewels and 
to tell them wherein each differs from the other. When 
I declared that no one could know their value better 
than their own father, since he is an expert appraiser 
of such treasures, being a jeweller, and that it is to 
him that they should turn for counsel, they smote me 
savagely and ridiculed me for my advice." 

"They have certainly done wrong," replied the King, 
"and they deserve to be punished." 

"So may thine own ears, O Sire, accept what 
Thy mouth hath expressed. Behold, Esau and Jacob 
are also brothers, to each of whom was bequeathed 
a precious stone, and now, our gracious monarch de- 
mands which is the better. May it please him to dis- 
patch a messenger to our Father in Heaven, for He 
is the greatest jeweler and He alone can judge the 
difference in the stones." 

"Perceivest thou, O Nicholas, the cleverness of 


the Jews?" exclaimed the King. "Verily, such a sage 
deserves to be laden with gifts and to be honored in 
a high degree. As for thee, thou must suffer penalty 
for giving false testimony against the Jewish race." 

"Be that as it may," said Nicholas, "it has always 
been the custom of our sacred monarchs to make all 
religions subordinate to their own. Wherefore actest 
thou differently?" 

"Never have I seen a thing succeed through force," 
rejoined the King, "for, just as soon as pressure re- 
laxes, it reverts to its former condition, just as a 
stone which is thrown into the air necessarily falls 

back to earth Therefore, I counsel 

thee, use no force with this people. Perhaps, thou 
mayest be able to achieve something with them by 
patient teaching and constant admonition, for, if the 
drop of water makes an impression upon the hardest 
marble, how much deeper impression can the gentle 
tongue make upon the soft heart of flesh!" 

As Pedro of Aragon reigned from 1094 to 1104, 
the date of its composition, if the authenticity of the 
episode is to be unquestioned, is definitely determined. 
In this narrative, too, it is again a Jew who cleverly 
eludes the trap so adroitly laid for him by his royal 
master. It is a significant circumstance and goes 
far to prove the contention of some writers, that even 
if the actual occurrence did not take place, the parable 
must have originated among the Jews, or else the Jew 
would not so persistently played so wise and important 
a role. It is further argued that if the other versions, 
in which a Mohammedan is the questioner, were older, 
the later Jewish sources would not have made him 
a Christian prince; whereas, in the Christian variants 


of the story, it is quite natural to find a Saracen, in 
place of a Christian, taking the leading part. 

The legend was undoubtedly extensively circulated 
among the Jews at a very early period, even though 
it may not have appeared in the form in which we 
find it in Ibn Verga's work. As Busone was a friend 
of the noted Jewish poet Manoello, who was also 
acquainted with Dante, it seems plausible to assume 
that it is from him that the Italian romancer received 
the tradition, which directly influenced Boccaccio and, 
incidentally, other writers. 

Dr. M. Wiener, the editor of the Shebet Yehudah, 
in a separate article on the origin of the parable, 
maintains that the Hebrew version is the oldest, in 
point of historical correctness, and that it is ethically 
the most valuable of all analogues. The same claim 
is made by a French writer, Gaston Paris, in an 
elaborate essay on the subject, and, as he is an eminent 
folklorist, his conclusions should carry considerable 

The second Hebrew parallel is equally remarkable 
and distinctive. It is to be found in an unpublished 
work from the pen of the celebrated mystic, Abraham 
Abulafia (1240 to about 1291), entitled Or ha-Sekel, 
or "The Light of Reason". In arguing the superiority 
of Israel as a nation, he applies the following parable : 

"There was a man who had in his possession a 
costly pearl which he desired to bequeath to his son. 
He, therefore, taught him the uses of wealth, so that 
he would be able to recognize the value of this pearl 
and esteem it as great a treasure as his father. While 


engaged in demonstrating this, the son provoked his 
father. What did the father do? He did not wish 
to hand the pearl over to another man lest his son 
lose his inheritance, in case he repented and became 
reconciled to him; he, therefore, threw it into a cis- 
tern, for, argued he, 'Should my son not repent, I 
would not have him inherit it; but should he repent, 
I would not have him lose it; hence, while he re- 
mains unrepentant, let it be hidden away in my cis- 
tern; but as soon as he recants, I will immediately 
fetch it for him.' 

Now, during the whole time that the son remained 
obdurate, the father's slaves came to him, day after 
day, and taunted him, each boasting that the master 
had given him the pearl. But the son, from lack of 
prudence, gave no heed. After a while, however, they 
aroused him to such a point that he repented, where- 
upon his father forgave him and brought up the pearl 
out of the cistern and presented it to his son. When 
the slaves saw this, they at once fell upon their faces 
and were ashamed of their lies before the son, being 
hard put to in obtaining his pardon. 

Even so did it transpire with us respecting the 
nations that tell us that God had substituted them 
for us. For, so long as we fail to conciliate God in 
the things wherein we have sinned against him, we 
have no answer to give them; but when we repent 
and He restores our captivity, those that seek to shame 
us will themselves be put to shame. But because we 
to-day have not as yet reached the high estate which 
we hope some day to attain, the dispute continues. 


To whom does the jewel of truth belong; to us or to 
our adversaries? Until the Arbiter comes and lifts 
the pearl out of the pit and restores it to His son; 
and then the truth will be made clear, and the treasure 
will be surrendered to its rightful owners, called the 
People of God; then jealousy and strife will cease 
and each member of the human race will 
realize the universal brotherhood of man." 

We have here an apologetic form of the classical 
story, held to be the oldest-known parallel by Stein- 
schneider and other investigators. In the epilogue, 
it is inferred that the repentant son is Israel and the 
servants are Christians and Moslems. The other 
Hebrew account is of a later date. 

Professor Victor Chauvin, the Belgian orientalist, 
who resides in the ill-fated city of Liege, ventures 
to ask: "whether this miserable anecdote, as badly in- 
vented as told, has even a shadow of resemblance to 
the parable of the three rings. To assume that it has, 
is to ignore the conspicuous fact that without the an- 
tithesis of the true ring and the false, there can be no 
parable." Inasmuch as he had discovered what he 
calls the germ of the parable in Thaalabi's Arabic "His- 
tory of the Persian Kings", written in the eleventh 
century, where the author speaks of three genuine 
rings, without any antithesis or application to religion 
at all, the story given in Abulafia's narrative, which 
tells of one treasure and of three religions the two 
rejected pretenders having not the slightest claim to 
recognition affords a far more striking parallel than 
his own. The Hebrew author's version furnishes an 


older phase of the simile, and his presentation is not 
irrational, if one studies it closely. To be sure, Abu- 
lafia, who flourished about 1290, was a fanatical Cab- 
balist, who had presumed to convert the Pope and 
had just managed to escape with his life. His story 
properly belongs in the realm of polemics and takes 
its place in the history of controversy between the 
three religions. 

It might be said, in conclusion, that the argument 
that all the three rings are genuine and its applica- 
tion to the three dominant religions is probably a pro- 
duct of the Crusades, and the meaning of the parable 
is to be sought only in that application and not in the 
trick of illusion, which may be a very old element in 

The quaint story recorded in an old Hebrew pole- 
mical work against Christianity, entitled Nizzahon 
(Victory), generally supposed to have been written 
by a German, in the thirteenth century, at a time when 
the Tartars *played an important role and Palestine 
was still the scene of bloody battles, is of interest to 
us as showing that the idea of comparing the three 
religions became current in Germany at so early a 
period. This work was known to the great humanist 
Reuchlin and was edited, with a Latin translation, by 
the Christian-Hebrew scholar Wagenseil, a personal 
friend of several noted rabbis of his time (Altdorf 
1681). As the apologue is quoted, as a remote par- 
allel, by no less an authority than Steinschneider, it 
may here be summarized, especially as it is not other- 
wise mentioned in any of the numerous books and 
monographs on the origin of Lessing's "Nathan": 


"An emperor wished to ascertain which was the 
most lofty and praiseworthy of all religions, the Jew- 
ish, the Christian or the Mohammedan. Accordingly, 
he summoned a member of each of these faiths and 
had them separately incarcerated. Then he went to 
each in turn and endeavored to persuade him to change 
his faith in favor of either of the others, under penalty 
of immediate death. The first one he appealed to was 
the Jew, and he enjoined him to choose either the 
Christian or the Mohammedan faith, or else he would 
forthwith perish. 

The Jew replied: 'Heaven forbid that I should 
forsake my God and Creator, my Rock, the living 
God, the King of the World, and that I should 
cleave to a strange faith. Know that I would cheer- 
fully endure a thousand deaths, one after the other, 
and still remain steadfast for the Law of our God 
and for the glorification of His Holy name/ 

When the emperor saw that he could not prevail 
against him and could not move him from his resolve, 
he had him carried to a grave prepared for him, and 
ordered the guard to place his sharpened sword on his 
neck to intimidate and distress him, but he failed in 
his design, for the Jew remained obdurate. Seeing this, 
the emperor released him and went to the Christian 
priest, whom he held prisoner, and besought him, under 
penalty of death, to forsake the Church and to desig- 
nate whether he wished to become a Jew or a Moham- 
medan. The priest volubly protested that he preferred 
to remain loyal to his creed. He wept and supplicated 
the emperor to permit him to remain loyal to Christian- 


ity, which is the only truly exalted faith, maintaining 
that Jesus had suffered martyrdom to redeem him and 
other sinners like himself, that he might bring them 
into the Kingdom of Heaven. The emperor, becom- 
ing enraged, bade him cut short his words and come 
to a rapid decision, offering him life if he chose either 
of the other creeds, but instant death should he de- 
cline. When the priest saw that the monarch was 
determined to execute his threat, he soon let it be 
known that he preferred life to a miserable death 
and said : 'Since, Sire, you insist upon my change of 
faith, I would far rather become a Jew than a Mos- 
lem, for there is neither benefit nor substance in the 
Mohammedan faith, and the Jewish religion is far 
more exalted.' 

Thereupon, the emperor left him abruptly and re- 
paired to the Mohammedan, whom he had caused 
to be cast into prison, and enjoined him, as 
he did the others, to chose between the Jewish and 
the Christian* faiths, if he would save his life. The 
Mohammedan became hysterical, and, with tears 
streaming from his eyes, pleaded with the emperor 
thus: 'Why, O Sire, do you wish to tear me from 
my own people and force me to embrace an alien 
faith, since mine is the only true, pure and righteous 
one, and no other can be compared to it in excellence ?' 
The emperor, moved to wrath, ordered the execu- 
tioner to brandish the sword, whereupon the terrified 
Arab implored respite until the morning, so that he 
might compose his conscience and make his choice. 
This the monarch granted. In the morning, he ex- 


claimed, in a loud voice : The God of Abraham, my 
Father, is the God of Ishmael. Israel alone is the 
perfect rock.' He continued to sing the praises of the 
Jewish faith, in extravagant terms, couching his pane- 
gyric in rhymed prose and registering an oath that he 
was now ready to become an Israelite. 

When the emperor perceived that the Jew was 
eager to go to his death rather than to abandon the 
faith of his Fathers, and that both the priest and the 
Arab were willing to adopt the Jewish religion, he 
was so impressed, that he forthwith became a prose- 
lyte to Judaism, together with his Christian and Mo- 
hammedan prisoners." 

This narrative is strongly reminiscent of the account 
of the conversion of the Chazars, a kingdom estab- 
lished in South Russia long before the foundation of 
the Russian monarchy (855), whose sovereign, named 
Bulan, and his people are said to have embraced Juda- 
ism either in the seventh or eighth century. Bulan 
invited the wise men of Israel to a conference to meet 
the representatives of the Christian and Moslem faiths 
and proceeded to examine them all. As each of the 
champions believed his religion to be the best, Bulan 
separately questioned the Christian and the Moham- 
medan as to which of the other two religions they 
considered the best. When both gave preference to 
that of the Jews, the king perceived that this must be 
the true religion. He, therefore, adopted it and caused 
all his people to become Jews likewise. 

Up to within recent years, the genuineness of this 
historic event, which is substantially corroborated by 


numerous authorities, has been questioned, but the 
discovery of important documents, held to be authen- 
tic by scholars, conclusively proves the accuracy of 
this episode, one of the most romantic and significant 
events in Jewish history. Undoubtedly, the story 
recorded by the German-Hebrew author of the four- 
teenth century, is merely an echo of the classical ac- 
count of the conversion of King Bulan and the 



A great poet and humanist of Germany, Johann 
Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), who once wrote 
so appreciatively of the "Spirit of Hebrew Poetry", 
has this to say about Lessing's famous parable : 

"About a fable of three rings is entwined the drama- 
tic legend, a splendid wreath of doctrines of the noblest 
kind, designed to teach brotherhood and racial and 
religious tolerance. In every party strife and religious 
dissension; in the most unusual situations, brought 
about by destiny, this wreath will be woven by many 
different hands. In the end all must heed the highest 
mandate of a new destiny: 'O ye nations, bear with 
one another! Ye men of various opinions, customs 
and character, help one another ; tolerate one another ; 
be human !' " 




SITTAH, his Sister. 

NATHAN, a wealthy Jew of Jerusalem. 

RECHA, his adopted Daughter. 

DAYA, a Christian woman residing in the house of 

Nathanr as companion to Recha. 
A young Knight-Templar. 
AL HAFI, a Dervish. 
The Patriarch 'of Jerusalem. 
A Lay Brother of a Con-vent in Jerusalem. 
An Emir in the service of the Sultan. 
Mamelukes of the Sultan. 

f The Scene is at Jerusalem. 



$ cbidjf, 
in funf 2Ufj&sen. 

Jntroite, nara et heic Dii fnnc! 



Facsimile of Title-Page of the First Edition of NATHAN THE WISE. 

[The only copy of the original Prospectus, printed at Wolfen- 
btittel, August 8, 1778, is in possession of Herr Justizrat Carl 
Robert Lessing in Berlin.] 



SCENE I. Entrance-hall of NATHAN'S house. NA- 
THAN just returned from a journey. DAYA 
meeting him. 

DAYA. * 

Tis he 'tis Nathan ! God be thanked indeed 
That now at last you are restored to us 1 


Ay, Daya, thanked be God but why 'at last' ? 
Did I then propose sooner to return; 
Or could I have come sooner? Babylon 
Lies from Jerusalem good ten score leagues 
As I perforce have had to shape my way, 
Diverging now to right and now to left; 
And gathering in of debts is no such task 
As specially promotes the trader's speed, 
Or can be settled in a moment's time. 


Oh Nathan, oh what misery the while 
Might have o'ertaken you! Your house 

"Set Note 2. 



Took fire 

Ay, that I have already heard; God grant 
That I've already heard the worst of it. 

Well might it have been utterly consumed. 


In that case, Daya, we'd have built ourselves 
A new one, and a better. 


Ay, that's true; 

But oh, our Recha was within an ace 
Of burning with it! 


Who? my Recha? Nay, 
I had not heard of that. In such a case, 
I ne'er had needed house. Within an ace 
Of being burned to death ! Ha ! out with it ; 
She's burned indeed confess she's burned to 

death ; 
Kill me, but torture me no more. She's burned 1 

If so, would you have heard it from my lips? 


Then why appal me thus? Oh Recha dear; 
Oh my own Recha ! 



Recha yours your own? 


Oh may I never have to wean my tongue 
From calling her my own 1 


Call you all else 
That you possess, your own with no more right ? 


Nought surely with a better right; all else 
That I possess hath been bestowed on me 
By nature or by chance ; this prize alone 
I owe to virtue. 


Nathan, what a price 
You make me pay for all your benefits; 
If benefits conferred for such an end 
Deserve the name 1 


For such an end ? what end ? 


My conscience whispers 


Daya, before all, 
Hear me describe 



My conscience, I repeat 


Hear me describe the dainty stuff I bought 

For you in Babylon, so rich, so choice 

For Recha's self scarce bring I aught more rare. 


What boots it, Nathan, since my conscience now 
Refuses any longer to be hushed. 


And then I long to see your ecstasy 
When you behold the bracelets and the ring, 
The ear-rings and the chain I chose for you 
As I passed through Damascus. 


Ay, just so, 
'Tis just like you for ever raining gifts. 


Take freely as I give, and say no more. 


What say no more? Who, Nathan, doubts 
That you are generosity and honor's self; 
And yet 


I'm nothing better than a Jew; 
That's what you mean to say. 

Sc. i. NATHAN THE WISE 131. 


Nay, what I mean 
You know full well 


No more of it. 


Well then, 

Whate'er you do that's penal before God, 
And I can neither alter nor prevent, 
Be it upon your head. 


E'en be it so. 

But, Daya, where is she; where lingers she? 
Oh, if you have deceived me ! Knows she yet 
That I am come ? 


How can you ask me this? 
As yet she quivers in her every nerve ; 
As yet her fancy pictures fire alone 
In every image of her brain; in sleep 
Her spirit wakes, and when she wakes it sleeps ; 
At times she seems less than a sentient thing, 
Anon more than an angel. 


Ah, poor child. 
How frail a thing is man ! 


This morn she lay 
Long with her eyelids closed and seemed as dead ; 


Sudden she started up and cried, 'Hark, harkl 
I hear the camels of my father's train, 
Ay, and his own dear kindly voice ;' meanwhile 
Her eye grew fixed again, and then her head, 
Deserted now by her supporting hand, 
Sank on the pillow. Hastening to the door, 
I saw you coming coming of a truth! 
/ No wonder she divined it; all the time 
Her soul hath dwelt on you and him. 


And him? 
What him? 


On him who plucked her from the flames. 


Ay, who might that be who and where is he? 
Where js the man who saved my Recha's life? 


Twas a young Templar who, some days before, 
Spared by the clemency of Saladin, 
Had been brought hither as a captive. 1 



A Templar, say you, and a Templar spared 
By Saladin ! Could Recha not be saved 
By any smaller miracle than this! 

a See Note 3. 



Yet but for him, who boldly staked afresh 
The life which lately had been spared to him, 
She surely must have perished. 


Daya, say, 

Where is he where's the noble, generous man? 
Lead me without delay unto his feet. 
Oh tell me that you gave him on the spot 
Whate'er of wealth I left you gave him all, 
And promised more far more 


How could we do't? 


You did it not! 


He came, no man knows whence; 
He went, no man knows whither. Destitute 
Of all acquaintance with our house, he dashed, 
Led by his ear alone, through smoke and flame, 
Screened by his mantle, till he reached the spot 
Where Recha shrieked for help. We deemed 

him lost, 

When lo! emerging from the blazing pile, 
He stood before us, on his stalwart arm 
Bearing our darling. Cold, and all unmoved 
By our acclaim of thanks, he laid her down, 
Passed through the throng of gaping witnesses, 
And vanished. 



Not for ever, let us hope. 


The first few following days he could be seen 
Wandering up and down beneath the palms 
Which yonder shade our risen Saviour's tomb. 
With heartfelt rapture I approached his side, 
Thanked him, extolled his valor, and conjured 
That he would look at least once more upon 
The grateful creature who could never rest 
Until she might weep out her gratitude 
Before his feet. 


What then? 


'Twas all in vain; 

To all our fond entreaties he was deaf ; 
And Vented upon me such bitter taunts 

That you recoiled in fear? 


Nay, far from that; 
For daily I accosted him afresh, 
And every day I bore his taunts anew. 
What brooked I not from him, what would I not 
Most willingly have brooked? But now for long 
He comes no more to roam beneath the palms 
Which cast their shade on our Redeemer's tomb, 


And none can tell where he is hidden now. 
You start you ponder 


Nay, I but reflect 

How an adventure such as this must work 
Upon a heart like Recha's spurned like this; 
At once attracted and repelled by him 
She's bound to prize so highly of a truth, 
Her heart must be in conflict with her head, 
To say which sentiment should now prevail, 
Tender regret, or hatred of the man. 
Neither may triumph, then sheer fantasy, 
Sharing the strife, may breed a dreamy mood, 
Reasoning now with heart and now with head 
Evil alternative! unless I wrong 
My Recha, such will haply be her case ; 
She'll wax a dreamer 


But she is so good, 
So lovable! 


A dreamer none the less. 


Well, if you will, there is a special whim 
Most dear to her. She holds the Templar is 
No human being, no mere thing of earth, 
But one of those blest angels to whose ward 
Her childish heart from infancy was fain 
To think she was entrusted ; and that he, 


Rending the clouds in which he veils himself, 
And hovering o'er her even in the fire, 
Did suddenly assume the Templar's form, 
And stand beside her smile not; who can tell? 
Or, spite your smiles, let her at least enjoy 
A sweet delusion of a kind that's shared 
Alike by Christian, Mussulman, and Jew. 


Sweet to me too. Go, honest Daya, go, 

See what she does I fain would speak with 


And then I'll seek this guardian-angel out, 
Who seems so wild and freaky ; deigns he still 
To wander here below with us, and yet 
To wear his knightship in so rude a guise, 
I'll find him out for sure, and bring him here. 

You're .undertaking much. 


If, after all, 

The sweet delusion yield to sweeter truth- 
And, trust me, Daya, to a human heart 
A man's more dear than e'er an angel is 
( You will not chide or rail on me at least 
When you shall see our angel-doter cured. 


You are so good, and yet so trickish too ! 
I go but mark see there she comes herself. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 137 

SCENE II. RECHA and the Preceding. 


So, father, it is you, in very sooth ; 
Methought you'd haply sent your voice alone 
To herald you. Why halt you now; what hills, 
What deserts, or what torrents part us still ? 
You breathe within the self-same walls with me, 
And yet you haste not to embrace your child ; 
Poor Recha who was nearly burnt alive; 
Ay, nearly, only nearly burnt; so shudder not 
Oh, 'twere a loathly death to burn alive! 


My child! my darling child! 


You had to cross 

Euphrates, Tigris, Jordan, and who knows 
What other mighty streams how oft have I 
Trembled before you, before the fiery death 
So nearly grazed my being; but since then 
A watery death seems by comparison 
A pleasure, a refreshment, a delight. 
And yet you are not drowned nor am I burned, 
How we will now rejoice, and thank the Lord ; 
He surely bore you and your crazy bark 
On his invisible angels' blessed wings 
Across the traitorous streams, and the same God 
Beckoned my angel that in patent shape 
He should uplift me on his snow-white wing 
And bear me through the flames. 


NATHAN (to himself). 

His snow-white wing! 
Ay, ay, she means the Templar's snow-white 

Outspread before him 


Yes, in patent shape 

He bore me safely through the raging flames, 
Fanned harmless from me by his kindly wings, 
Ay, I have seen an angel face to face, 
My guardian angel. 


Recha of a truth 
Were worthy of an angel-visitor, 
Nor could she view in him a fairer form 
Than he in her. 

RECHA (smiling). 

Whom would you flatter now, 
The angel or yourself? 1 


Yet had a man, 

A common man of nature's daily stamp, 
Vouchsafed this service to you, he had loomed 
An angel in your eyes he must and would. 


Not such a one oh, no ; this was in truth 
A veritable angel, you yourself 

*See Note 4. 


Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 139 

Have ever taught me that such Beings are. 
And that our heavenly Father wonders works 
In their behalf who love His holy name, 
And sure I love it. 


Ay, and He loves you, 
And works for you, and for the like of you, 
Miracles every hour; and has done so 
From all eternity. 


I love to hear 't. 


And yet though it might sound but natural, 

An every-day and ordinary thing, 

That a mere Templar had delivered you, 

Would it be any less a miracle? 

To me the greatest miracle is this, 1 

That many a veritable miracle 

By use and wont grows stale and commonplace. 

But for this universal miracle, 

A thinking man had ne'er confined the name 

To those reputed miracles alone 

Which startle children, ay, and older fools, 

Ever agape for what is strange and new, 

And out of nature's course. 


Have you a mind 

With subtle instances like this to daze 
Her poor o'erheated brain? 

x See Note 5. 



Nay, suffer me 
Were it not miracle enough for her 
That she was rescued by a man who first 
Himself was rescued by a miracle, 
Ay, a prodigious one; for when before 
Did Saladin e'er spare a Templar's life? 
When did a Templar ask him for such grace, 
Or hope for such, or tender for his life 
More than the leathern girdle of his sword, 
His dagger at the most? 1 


This argument 

Tells for my case, my father, for it proves 
This was no Templar save in outward form; 
For if no captive Templar can approach 
Jerusalem except to certain death, 
If none may wander here at liberty, 
How could a Templar roaming around at will 
Have rescued me that night? 


A shrewd conceit! 

Now, Daya, speak. Did not I learn from you 
That he was sent here as a prisoner? 
Doubtless you know still more about his case. 


Well, it is said so, but 'tis also said 

The Sultan only spared the Templar's life 

J See Note 6. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 141 

Because he bore a strange similitude 
To a loved brother of his own, now dead. 
But seeing full a score of years have passed 
Since the said brother died, nor do we know 
Even his name, or on what field he fell, 
Methinks the tale is so incredible, 
That there is nothing in the whole affair. 


Daya, what's so incredible in this? 

You surely would not flout a likely tale, 

As others often do, to give your faith 

To something else much more incredible, 

Saladin loves his kindred all so well, 

Why should he not, then, in his younger years 

Have loved some brother with a special love? 

Are not two faces sometimes found alike, 

And is a memory dead because 'tis old? 

Since when has cause ceased to produce effect? 

What find you so incredible in this? 

Oh, my sage Daya, this can be to you 

No whit a wonder, 'tis your miracles 

Which make so huge a draft upon belief. 


Mocking again ! 


Because you're mocking me; 
Yet, Recha, your deliverance remains 
A wonder, possible to Him alone 
Who loves to govern by the slightest threads 


The firmest plans and most unbridled wills 
Of kings, His sport, if not His mockery. 


My father, if I err, you know full well 
I err not willingly. 


I know it well. 

Nay, you are ever teachable, my child. 
Look you, a forehead with a certain arch, 1 
A nose that's chiselled in a special form, 
A pair of eyebrows pencilled on a brow 
Prominent or obtuse, a lineament, 
A curve, a line, a dimple, or a mole, 
These on a savage European face, 
And lo, you're plucked from out an Asian fire! 
Is that no marvel, marvel-seeking souls? 
Why put an angel to the trouble o't? 


Well, Nathan, if I may presume to speak, 
For all you say, I'd ask you where's the harm 
Of thinking that an angel rescued her, 
And no mere man ? Sure thus we feel ourselves 
Nearer the great inscrutable First Cause 
Of our deliverance 


Pride and nought but pride! 
The iron pot would fain be lifted up 

^ee Note 7. 


Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 143 

With tongs of silver from the kitchen fire, 

That it may deem itself a silver urn. 

And where's the harm, you ask the harm 

indeed ! 

Nay, rather might I ask you where's the good ; 
Since your pretence of feeling nearer God 
Is either folly or rank blasphemy 
Ay, and such folly surely does work harm. 
Come, hearken to me, and confess the truth ; 
As to the being who has saved her life, 
Whether it was an angel or a man, 
I wot that you, and Recha more than you, 
Would wish to do some service unto him; 
Now, to an angel I would like to know 
What service could ye do thank him, perhaps; 
Sigh to him, pray to him, or haply melt 
In pious rapture at the thought of him ; 
Or you might fast upon his festival, 
Spend alms in honor of him, all in vain. 
It strikes me that your neighbors and your- 

Gain far more by your piety than he; 
Your angel grows no fatter by your fasts, 
Nor richer by your charitable doles, 
More glorious by your pious ecstasies, 
Or mightier by your faith is that not so ? 
How different with a man ! 


I grant a mortal would have furnished us 
More chances to requite his services, 


And God knows how we yearned to do him good, 
But he would absolutely nought from us, 
And needed nought; serenely satisfied, 
Sufficient to himself as angels are, 
And only they can be. 


And when at last 
He disappeared entirely from our view 


What ! disappeared ? how so ? beneath the palms 
Was seen no more? how's this? Belike ye've 

To find him elsewhere. 


Nay, we've not done that. 


Not done it, Daya ! Is it possible ? 
Now see the mischief of your foolish dreams, 
Ye heartless visionaries, what if now 
Your angel pines in sickness? 


Sickness ! 



That cannot be oh no ! 


A shuddering chill 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 145 

Creeps o'er me, Daya, and my brow, but now 
So warm, is cold as ice. 


He is a Frank, 

All unaccustomed to our burning clime; 
He's young too and unused to all the toils, 
The fasts and vigils which his Order claims. 


But sick! 


Nay, Nathan only would imply 
That such might peradventure be his case. 


Ay, lying there with neither friends nor gold 
To buy him friends. 


Oh, father, say not so. 


Lies without tendance, sympathy, or help, 
A prey to suffering, perhaps to death 1 

Where, where? 


He who for one he ne'er had seen, 
Enough she was a mortal like himself, 
Dashed 'mid the flames. 



Nathan, be merciful. 


Who would not know the creature he had saved ; 
Would not behold her, that he thus might shun 
Her very thanks! 


Oh, spare her, I entreat I 


Sought not to see her more, unless it were 
That he might rescue her a second time ; 
Enough that she was human 


Oh, forbear! 


And now has nought to soothe him in his death 
Beyond the knowledge of his deed. 


Forbear ! 
You're killing her. 


And you've been killing him; 
Or may have done so. Oh, my Recha, hear, 
'Tis wholesome physic that I give you now, 
Not poison, sure he lives compose yourself, 
Belike he is not sick not even sick. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 147 

Oh, are you sure he's neither dead nor sick? 


Be sure he is not dead, for God rewards 
E'en here below the good that men do here ; 
Now go, my child, but I would have you learn 
That pious ecstasies are easier far 
Than righteous action. Slack and feeble souls, 
E'en when themselves unconscious of their case, 
Are prone to godly raptures, if by these 
They may eschew the toil of doing good. 


Ah, father, leave me ne'er again alone. 
And do you think perhaps he's only gone 
Some otherwhere? 


Ay, certainly go go 
But who's yon Moslem who with curious eye 
Scans my well-laden camels, know ye him? 

Why, 'tis your Dervish 




Your Dervish, sure, 
Your old chess partner, it is he indeed. 



Al Hafi, 1 mean you? that is never he. 

Ay, but he's now the Sultan's Treasurer. 


Al Hafi ! are you at your dreams again ? 
Nay, it is he in truth he comes this way. 
In with ye, quick. I wonder what he brings. 


Ay, ope your eyes as wide as e'er you can. 


Is't thou, or is it not? in pomp like this 
A Dervish! 


Wherefore not can nothing then, 
Nothing at all be made of Dervishes? 


Oh, possibly there might; but yet I thought 
Your genuine Dervish never chose that men 
Should make aught of him. 

Note 8. 

Sc. iii. NATHAN THE WISE 149 


By the Prophet's beard 
That I'm no genuine Dervish well may be, 
But when one must 


How ! must a Dervish must I 
No man should must a Dervish least of all; 
What must he, then? 


What he's implored to do; 
And what he deems it right that he should do ; 
Even a Dervish must do that. 


By heaven! 
You speak the truth come, let me hug thee, 

I hope at least I still may call you friend. 

What, ere you know the thing I've now become? 


In spite of that. 


But what if I've become 
A Jack-in-office, one whose friendship now 
Might not be to your liking. 



If your heart 

Be Dervish still, I'll take my chance of that; 
As for your office, 'twere no more to me 
Than is the suit of clothes in which you stand. 


Ay, but it still might claim your reverence. 
What think you ? guess suppose you had a court 
What had your friend Al Hafi been therein? 


A Dervish pure and simple nothing more; 
Or at the most then possibly my cook. 


To spoil my skill in serving such as you ! 
Your cook, forsooth ! Why not your pantler too ? 
Now own that Saladin appraises me 
More shrewdly, seeing that I've now become 
His Treasurer. 


You Treasurer to him ! 


I mean 

I rule his privy purse ; his father still 
Controls the public treasury, while I 
Am fiscal of his house. 


His house is large. 

Sc. iii. NATHAN THE WISE 151 


Ay, and 'tis larger even than you think, 
For every beggar is a member on't. 


Yet Saladin so hates your mendicants 


That he's resolved to extirpate the breed 
Both root and branch, although the task may 

A beggar of himself. 


That's just my thought. 


Nay, he is one already, just as much 
As e'er another, for his store each eve 
Is something worse than empty, and the flood, 
Which flowed so freely in the morn, by noon 
Has long since ebbed. 


For channels suck it up, 
At least in part, to fill or stop up which 
Were hopeless both alike. 


You've hit it there. 


I know it well. 



Ay, it is bad enough 

When kings are vultures amid carcases, 
But when 'mid vultures they're the carcases 
The case is ten times worse. 


Oh, Dervish, no; 
Not so. 


'Tis very well to talk, but come, 

What will you give me to resign my post 

In your behalf? 


What does your post bring in? 


To me not much ; but it would fatten you, 

For wjien 'tis dead low water in his chest, 

As oft's the case, you'd throw your sluices wide, 

Pour in your loans, and take, in usury, 

As much as much as e'er you could desire. 


Usury even on my usury's gains? 


Just so. 


Till all my capital became 
One teeming mass of compound usury. 



Does that not tempt you? If not, write forth- 

Our friendship's deed of separation now; 
Nathan, I counted much on you. 


How so, 
What mean you, Dervish? 


That you would have helped 
To make me creditably fill my post 
By access to your coffers but I see 
You shake your head. 


Let there be no mistake, 
For here a clear distinction must be drawn ; 
Al Hafi, Dervish, ever welcome is 
To aught that Nathan can command but mark, 
Al Hafi, minister of Saladin, 1 


Sure I guessed as much, and knew you were 
As good as wise, as wise as you are good. 
The twin Al Hafis you distinguish thus 
Shall soon part company again, for see, 
This robe of office Saladin bestowed, 
Ere it be faded, or reduced to rags 
Such as a genuine Dervish ought to wear, 

'See Note 9. 


Shall grace a peg here in Jerusalem, 
While I, barefoot and scantily attired, 
Shall with my teachers tread the burning sands 
Of distant Ganges. 


That were like yourself. 

Ay, and play chess with them. 


Your greatest bliss. 


Could that have metamorphosed in a trice 
The wealthiest beggar to a poor rich man? 


Not that, I trow. 


No it was something else, 
And something even more absurd than that ; 
I felt me flattered as I ne'er had been, 
Flattered by Saladin's kind-hearted whim. 


And what was that? 


A beggar, so he said, 

And such alone, could tell how beggars feel; 
Only a beggar by experience knew 


How to bestow on beggars gracefully. 

My predecessor had been much too cold, 

Too rough, and gave so rudely when he gave; 

He probed each case too harshly, ne'er content 

To witness want, but still would know its cause, 

And thus proportionate his cautious dole. 

'Al Han/ so he said, 'will not do that, 

And Saladin in him will not appear 

So circumspect and so unkindly kind. 

He is not like those choked-up conduit-pipes 

Which issue forth in foul and fitful jets 

The streams which entered them so clear and 


Al Han thinks, Al Han feels as I.' 
Thus sweetly trilled the fowler's pipe, until 
The fowl was netted idiot that I am; 
Dupe of a dupe ! 


Nay, softly, Dervish, now! 


What! were it not the rankest foolery, 
By thousands to oppress and crush mankind, 
Rob them, destroy them, torture them, yet play 
The philanthrope to individual men I 1 
Were it not impious folly, too, to ape 
The goodness of Almighty God that's shed 
Without distinction upon good and bad, 
Benignly shed in sunshine and in shower 
On field and plain and wilderness alike, 

'See Note 10. 


Yet not possess his never-failing hand. 
Were that not foolery? 


Enough desist. 


Nay, let me dwell on my own folly too. 
Were it not folly if I sought to find 
The better side of follies such as these, 
Only because of such a better side 
To share such follies ha! now, what of that? 


Hie thee, Al Hafi, quick as e'er you can, 
Back to your deserts, for 'mid men, I fear, 
You shortly may unlearn to be a man. 


You're right I feared that very thing myself ; 


But why such haste? Al Hafi, wait; 
Think you your desert's like to run away? 
Would he but hear me ! ho ! Al Hafi, ho ! 
He's gone ! and fain would I have asked of him 
About our Templar, for the chances are 
He knows the man. 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 157 

SCENE IV. DAYA, in haste to NATHAN. 


Oh, Nathan, Nathan ! 


What would you now? 


He has appeared again; 
He's there once more! 


Who, Daya, who? 


He, he! 


He, he why, he's are plenty; but I trow 
Your he's your only he this should not be, 
Not if he were an angel past dispute 


Beneath the palms he wanders once again, 
And ever and anon he plucks the dates. 


And eats them, sure, as any Templar would. 


Oh, Nathan, wherefore will you tease me thus? 
Her hunerrv eve espied him in a trice 


Behind the thickly interlacing palms, 
And follows him unswervingly. She begs, 
Conjures that you will go to him at once ; 
Oh, hasten from the casement she will sign 
Whether he still walks there, or wends his steps 
Farther afield. Oh haste you, Nathan, haste ! 


Just as I've lighted from my camel ? nay, 
Would that be seemly? better go yourself, 
And tell him I've returned. Be well assured 
The worthy youth has only shunned my house 
Because its lord was absent; and that now 
He'll gladly come when Recha's father thus 
Invites him here, go, tell him that I do, 
And from my heart. 


'Twere vain; he'll never come, 
Since, to be brief, he comes to ne'er a Jew. 


Go, ne'ertheless at least detain him there ; 
Or, failing that, then hold him in your eye; 
Go, go at once I'll follow you anon. 
(NATHAN enters his house. DAYA sets forth.) 


SCENE V. An open place shaded by palm trees. The 
TEMPLAR pacing up and down beneath the palms. 
At a little distance a lay brother of the convent, 
dogging his steps, and seemingly desirous of ad- 
dressing him. 


That fellow dogs me not for pastime. See 
How greedily he leers upon my hands ! 

(To the Friar.) 
Good brother or good father, possibly 


Simple lay brother, sir, at your command. 


Well, my good brother, had I aught myself 
But, as God lives, I've nothing. 


All the same, 

Right hearty thanks ; God give you thousand-fold 
What you would give ; the will and not the gift 
Doth constitute the giver; and besides, 
I was not sent unto your Excellence 
To crave a dole. 


So then you have been sent? 


Ay from the cloister 



Where I even now 
Hoped to receive a slender pilgrim's meal. 


The tables were already occupied; 
Bat come, I pray you, back with me. 


Why so? 

Tis true 'tis long since I have tasted flesh, 
But what of that thank God the dates are ripe. 


Be cautious, sir, I pray you, with that fruit; 
Too freely used, 'tis hurtful, for it clogs 
The spleen, and genders melancholy blood. 


What if I loved the melancholy mood? 
But surely, sir, you were not sent to me 
To sound this wholesome warning. 


No I'm sent 
To sound you I may say, to feel your pulse. 


What! can you say it to my very face? 


And wherefore not? 


TEMPLAR (aside). 

A crafty friar this 

(To the Friar). 
Boasts then your convent many more like you? 


I know not but, dear sir, I must obey. 


And so you just obey, and split no hairs? 


Were it obedience else, dear sir? 

TEMPLAR (aside). 

See now, 
Simplicity is ever in the right. 

(To the Friar). 

Yet I presume you may confide to me. 
Who is the man so keen to probe my case; 
I'll swear 'tis not yourself. 


Would such a wish 
Beseem or profit me? 


Whom, then, I pray, 
Would it beseem or profit, since he is 
So curious about me who's the man? 


The Patriarch, I fancy, for 'twas he 
Who sent me after you. 



The Patriarch! 

Knows he no better what the crimson cross 
On the white mantle means? 


Why, / know that. 


Well, I'm a Templar, and a prisoner, 
Taken at Tebnin 1 if you care to know 
The fortress we so keenly wished to win 
In the last moments of the armistice, 
That we might then storm Sidon, I may add. 
I was the twentieth taken, and alone 
Was spared by Saladin. The Patriarch now 
Knows all he needs to know of me ; nay, more 
Than he can need to know. 


But hardly more 

Than he already knows. He now would know 
Why Saladin was moved to spare your life, 
And yours alone. 


Do I myself know that? 
Bare-necked I kneeled already on my cloak 
To meet the fatal stroke, when Saladin 
Scanned me more closely, bounded to my side, 
And made a signal to his Mamelukes ; 

'See Note 11. 


They raised me up and struck my fetters off ; 
I made as if to thank him, but I saw 
His eyes suffused with tears, and there he stood 
Mute as myself, he left the spot, I lived, 
What means this riddle let the Patriarch 
Unriddle for himself. 


He thence concludes 

God has reserved you for some weighty ends ; 
For glorious things. 


For glorious things, forsooth! 
To snatch a Jewish wench from out the flames ; 
Escort on Sinai gaping pilgrim bands, 
And such-like feats. 


The glories are as yet 
To follow, and so far you've not done ill ; 
Perhaps the Patriach himself designs 
Some far more weighty matters for you now. 


Ay, brother, think you so ? he has, belike, 
Already hinted it to you. 


He has ; but first 

I am to sound you, whether you're the man 
Would suit his purpose. 



Well then, sound away. 
I'd gladly see how the good brother sounds. 


The shortest plan will be to tell you plain 
The Patriarch's purpose. 




He wishes you 
To bear a certain letter 


Wishes me 

To bear a letter ! I'm no courier. 
Is this the weighty end more glorious far 
Than rescuing Jewish maids ? 


It must be so; 

For, says the Patriarch, this letter is 
Of passing weight to Christendom entire; 
The man who bears it safely, so he says, 
God of a surety will reward in heaven 
With a peculiar crown, and this, he says, 
No man is worthier of than you. 


Than I! 



Since, to deserve this special crown, he says, 
Scarce any man's more fit than you 


Than I! 


You're free, can reconnoitre here at will, 
You understand how towns are to be stormed, 
And how defended; you can estimate 
Better than any, says the Patriarch, 
The strength and weakness of the inner wall, 
The second wall, late reared by Saladin, 
And to the champions of God, he says, 
Describe it all. 


Good brother, might I ask 
To know the further tenor of the note? 


Well, I can scarcely tell you that myself ; 

It is intended for King Philip's hands; 1 

It seems the Patriarch sure I've wondered oft 

How such a holy man, whose wont it is 

To live for heaven alone, can condescend 

At the same time to be so well informed 

Of worldly things; it must revolt his soul 


Well then, the Patriarch ? 

'See Note 12. 



Precisely knows 

And surely, how and where, and in what strength 
And from what quarter, Saladin intends 
To open the campaign in case the war 
Breaks out afresh. 


He does? 


And 'tis his wish 

To let King Philip know how matters stand, 
That he may proximately weigh the risks, 
And judge if it were better to renew 
With Saladin, whate'er the cost, the truce 
Your Order lately did so boldly break. 


Oh, what a Patriarch! Ay, ay, I see 

The dear and daring man would make of me 

No ordinary courier, but a spy. 

Now, worthy brother, tell your Patriarch 

That in so far as you can make me out 

This is no job for me that I am bound 

Still to regard myself a prisoner; 

And that a Templar's single duty is 

To wield the sword with valor in the fray, 

Not play the common spy. 


I thought as much; 
Nor can I take your answer much amiss. 


But now the best's to come ; the Patriarch 
Has somehow pried out how the fort is named, 
And where 'tis situate on Lebanon, 
In which the store of treasure is preserved 
Wherewith the prudent sire of Saladin 
Maintains his forces and defrays the cost 
Of all his warfare. Saladin, it seems, 
Repairs from time to time, by hidden paths, 
With slender escort, to that mountain fort 
You follow me? 


Not I! 


The Patriarch thinks 
It were an easy matter now to seize 
On Saladin, and make an end of him. 
What do you shudder? Oh, a worthy brace 
Of godly Maronites are quite prepared, 
If but a valiant man would lead them on, 
To venture it. 


And so your Patriarch 
Has chosen me to be that valiant man? 


And then he thinks that out of Ptolemais 
King Philip could most fitly lend a hand 
To help the work. 



What, brother, this to me! 
To me! have you not heard this moment 


The monstrous debt of gratitude I owe 
To Saladin? 


Oh, yes, I heard 


And yet? 


The Patriarch thinks all this is very well ; 

But that God's service and your Order's claims 


These alter not the case these ne'er enjoin 
A deed of villainy ! 


No surely not; 

Only so thinks the Patriarch villainy. 
In sight of man's not so in sight of God. 


That I should owe my life to Saladin, 
And yet take his ! 


Ay, but the Patriarch says 
Saladin's still the foe of Christendom, 


And never possibly can win the right 
To be a friend to you. 


A friend well, no 

Yet one to whom I may not prove a knave, 
A most ungrateful knave. 


Oh, surely no 

And yet the Patriarch holds a man is quit 
Of gratitude before both God and man 
Whene'er the service which involved the debt 
Hath not been rendered for his sake alone; 
And when 'tis known, so thinks the Patriarch, 
That Saladin hath only spared your life 
Because a something in your face and mien 
Recalled his long-lost brother to his mind 


And so the Patriarch knows this too, well, 
Ah, were it so in sooth! Ah, Saladin, 
If nature formed one feature of my face 
In the resemblance of your brother's looks, 
Should nought within me correspond thereto? 
And what might correspond, could I suppress 
To do a pleasure to a Patriarch ? 
Nature, thou lie'st not thus ; nor in His works 
Doth God thus contradict Himself go, brother, 

Rouse not my gall begone, I say, begone! 



I go and go more happy than I came 
Forgive me, sir, but think, we cloister folk 
Must needs obey our Patriarch's commands. 

SCENE VI. The TEMPLAR and DAYA; the latter of 
whom has for some time been watching the former 
at a distance and now approaches him. 

DAYA (to herself). 

Yon monk, methinks, left him in no sweet mood, 
Yet I must dare my errand. 


Ha! what's this? 

The adage lies not monk and woman still, 
Woman and monk are the Fiend's fellest 

claws ; 
To-day he flings me in the clutch of both. 


Is't possible, my noble knight ; is't you ? Thank 


A thousand thanks to God, but where, I pray, 
Where have you hidden all this time ? I trust 
You've not been ill. 


Not I. 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 171 


Then well? 


Quite well. 


Oh, we've been anxious upon your account! 


Have you in sooth? 


You've surely been away. 




And came back to-day? 


No, yesterday. 


Our Recha's father too returned this day ; 
And now I trust that she may hope 


For what ? 


For what she oft had bid me ask of you ; 
Her father too now earnestly entreats 
That you will come he's fresh from Babylon 


With twenty camels bearing precious loads 
Of gems, and stuffs, and costly spices, such 
As Persia, Syria, and far Cathay 1 
Alone can furnish forth. 


I purchase nought. 


His people honor him like any prince; 
And yet I wonder that they call him aye 
Nathan the Wise, and not in preference 
Nathan the Rich. 


Possibly rich and wise 
Are all the same to them. 


But more than all 

They ought to have entitled him the Good; 
For oh you cannot think how good he is ; 
Soon as he learned our Recha's debt to you, 
What in that grateful moment would he not 
Have done or given to guerdon you ! 




Try him, sir, come and see. 
^ee Note 13. 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 173 


But then how soon 
Such moments melt away i 1 


Think you, sir knight, 
Had he not been so kindly and so good, 
I e'er had brooked to stay with him so long? 
Think you I know not what's a Christian's 


No, it was never o'er my cradle crooned 
That I should find my way to Palestine 
With my late husband, for no worthier end 
Than there to wait upon a Jewish girl. 
My husband, sir, was then a well-born squire 
In Kaiser Frederick's host 


By birth a Swiss, 

Who had at once the honor and the joy 
Of choking in the self-same puny stream 
With his Imperial Majesty himself. 2 
Woman, how oft you've told me this before ; 
Will you then never cease to pester me? 


Pester you oh my God ! 


Ay, pester me. 
I'm now resolved never to see you more, 

''See Note 14. 'See Note 15. 


Nor hear your prate nor do I choose to be 

Incessantly reminded of a deed 

I never meant to do; the thought of which 

Is a continual riddle to myself. 

I would not wish now to repent of it ; 

But mark, should such a case occur again, 

You'll have yourself to blame if I should act 

Not quite so promptly, but consider first 

And ponder well, and rather leave what burns 

To burn to death. 


Now God forbid I 



Do me the kindness at the least, I pray, 
To cease to know me more ; and more than all, 
To save me from this father Jew is Jew, 
And I'm a downright Swabian for the maid, 
Her image long ago has left my thoughts, 
If e'er it dwelt there. 


Ay, but yours still dwells 
In hers. 


What business has it there? 


Who knows ? 
Folk are not always what they seem to be. 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 175 


They're seldom any better. 

{He is about to go). 


Oh, sir, wait, 
Wherefore such haste? 


Woman, make not the palms 
Hateful to me, where I'm so fain to roam. 


Then go, thou German bear go go and yet 
I must not lose the traces of the beast. 

(She follows him at a distance.) 

176 NATHAN THE WISE Act li. 


SCENE I. The Sultan's Palace. 
SALADIN and SITTAH playing chess. 

My Saladin, oh how you play to-day I 


Not well? Methought 


Ay, well enough for me ; 
Yet hardly even that take back that move. 

Why so? 


Because unless you do, your knight 
Will be exposed. 


You're right well, thus. 


But now 
My pawn will fork. 1 

^ee Note 16. 



Ah, right again then check! 


But that won't help you. I advance, and now 
You're as you were. 


From this dilemma, sure, 
There's no escaping with impunity; 
Well, take my knight. 


I will not take him now ; 
I'll pass him by. 


Small thanks to you that move 
Is more important to you than the knight. 



But reckon not without your host; 
For see, I'd wager you did not expect 
This move of mine. 


No how could I suppose 
That you were weary of your queen. 


My queen? 

178 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Ay, now 'tis plain that I this day shall win 
My thousand dinars, 1 if I win no more. 

How so? 


How can you ask, since purposely 
You lose with all your might and yet I gain 
But little by it, for besides the fact 
That play like this has little pleasure in't, 
E'en when I lose I ever gain the most, 
Since, to console me for my want of skill, 
You ever give me double what I've lost. 


But look you, little sister, when you lose, 
Perhaps you do it purposely as well. 


Well, well, your generosity at least 
Perhaps may be the reason, brother mine, 
That I've not learned to play a better hand. 

But we neglect our game ; come, finish it. 

Is that so, well then, check, and double check ! 


I never thought of this discovered check,* 
'See Note 17. 'See Note 16. 


By which I fear I'm like to lose my queen, 
And game as well. 


But could you help yourself? 
Let's see. 


No, sister, you may take the queen ; 
She never was a lucky piece to me. 


Only at chess? 


Take her it matters not, 
Now all my other pieces are secure. 


Nay, nay, you've taught me better, Saladin, 
The courtesy that's ever due to queens. 1 


Take her or leave her, even as you will, 
But she is mine no more. 


But where's the need? 
Here's check to you again check, check! 


Go on! 
'See Note 18. 

180 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Ay, check, and no mistake ! 


And checkmate too. 


Not quite ; you still can interpose your knight, 
And try again yet do whate'er you please, 
I fear 'tis all the same. 


Ay, ay, you've won, 

And Hafi now must pay send for him quick. 
Sittah, you were not altogether wrong, 
I played too absently ; I was distraught. 
Why must they ever give us this plain set 
Of formless pieces, representing nought, 
And barren of suggestion to the mind? 
Or did they fancy that I meant to play 
With the Imaum? 1 perhaps but losers still 
Must ever seek excuses ; and I fear 
'Twas not the formless pieces made me lose; 
But your superior skill, your quicker eye, 
And greater concentration won the day. 


Thus would you dull the sting of your defeat? 
Enough, you were distraught, and more than I. 

'See Note 19. 



Than you, forsooth ! what should make you dis- 
traught ? 


Not cares like yours, I own. But, Saladin, 
When shall we play as keenly as we used? 


Nay, let us play more keenly than before ; 
Or think you that the war will hinder it? 
No, let it burst as quickly as it may ; 
It is not I renewed it. Willingly 
Had I prolonged the armistice afresh; 
And at the same time willingly had won 
The man who's fit to be my Sittah's mate, 
And that is Richard's brother 1 none but he 
My Richard's brother ! 


You are ever fain 
To praise your Richard. 


Had his sister now 

Chanced to become our brother Melek's bride,* 
Oh what a house the union would have formed I 
Best of the best, and first of all the earth. 
Mark me, I'm nothing loath to vaunt my race ; 
I'm worthy of my friends. A stock like that 
Had yielded sons who had been men indeed ! 

^ee Note 20. 2 See Note 21. 

182 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Did I not ever flout the specious dream? 

You know not, will not know, what Christians 


Their pride is to be Christians, never men ; 
Ay, even that which since their Founder's time 
Hath tinged their superstition with a touch 
Of pure humanity, is prized by them 
Never because 'tis human, but because 
'Twas preached and practised by their Jesus 


'Tis well for them he was so rare a man ; 
Well that they take his virtues upon trust; 
But what to them the virtues of their Christ? 
'Tis was not his virtues, but his name alone 
They seek to spread, that it may dominate 
And cloud the names of other noble men ; 
Ay, 'tis the name, the name of Christ alone 
Your "Christian cares about. 


By this you mean 

They would insist that you and Melek both 
Should bear the name before ye could presume 
As man or wife to love a Christian ? 


Just so as if a Christian alone 

Can know the love which the Creator's hand 

Hath planted in the breast of man and wife ! 



The Christians hold such strange absurdities 
They well might credit this. And yet you err ; 
For 'tis the Templars, not the Christians, 
As Templars, mark me, not as Christians, 
Who foil my purpose here, refusing still 
To part with Acre from their greedy clutch ; 
Acre, which Richard's sister should have brought 
As dowry to our Melek ; while, to mask 
Their knightly aims, they needs must play the 

The guileless monk, forsooth! and now, to 


A fleeting triumph, they will scarce await 
The termination of the armistice. 
So be it sirs, 'tis all the same to me, 
Were all else only as it ought to be. 

Brother, what else goes wrong with you; what 

Could disconcert you thus? 


What else but that 

Which still hath disconcerted all my schemes ; 
I've been to Lebanon and seen $our sire ;" 
He sinks beneath his cares. 


Alas, alas ! 
'See Note 22. 

184 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


He must succumb with straits on every hand; 
All fails, now here, now there 


What straits what fails? 


What else but what I almost scorn to name ; 
Which, when 'tis mine, seems so superfluous, 
And, when it lacks, so indispensable. 
Where is Al Hafi now, hath no one gone 
To call him here ? Oh hateful, cursed gold ! 
Ha! here he comes, and in the nick of time. 



I trust the Egyptian moneys have arrived, 
And in good store. 

What, have you word of them? 

V *' 


Not I ; but yet I thought they must have come, 
And that belike you now had sent for me 
To take them over. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 185 


Well, in any case, 
You'll pay a thousand dinars unto Sittah. 


What ! pay instead of get ; well, that is good ; 
Why, this is something worse than getting 


To Sittah, too, why that? what, lost again? 
Once more a loser at your chess? ay, ay, 
There lies the board. 


Perhaps you grudge my luck. 

AL HAFI (examining the chess-board; while SALADIN 
paces up and down, plunged in thought). 

Grudge you, forsooth! when, sure, you know 
full well 

SITTAH (with earnest signs to him). 
Hush, Han, hush ! 


You grudge it to yourself I 1 


Oh, Han, silence! 


Were the white men yours? 
And you gave check? 

'See Note 23. 


SITTAH (aside). 

Thank goodness, Saladin 
Hath not perceived his drift. 


Is it his move ? 

SITTAH (in his ear). 
Oh, Han, tell him I shall get the gold. 

AL HAFI (still intent upon the board). 
Oh yes, you'll get it as you always do. 


How 1 are you mad ? 


The game's not over yet ; 
Why, Saladin, you've still a chance to win. 

SALADIN (with abrupt indifference). 
No matter, pay the money to her. 


Why, there's your queen ! 

SALADIN (testily) 

Ay, but she doesn't count; 
She's lost. 

SITTAH (aside to AL HAFI). 

Oh, Hafi, make believe at least, 
And say that I may send to fetch the gold. 


AL HAFI (absorbed in contemplation of the board). 
Just so, as formerly. But though the queen 
May count no longer, yet in spite of that 
Saladin is not mate. 

SALADIN (stepping forward and dashing down the 

Oh yes, I am, 
And choose to be so. 


Well, then, please yourself; 
Your play is like your payment of the stakes, 
Both sham alike. 


What's this he mutters now? 

SITTAH (while she makes signs to AL HAFI). 
You know him surely, prone to bristle up, 
Exacting, nay, a trifle jealous too. 


Jealous of you ! my sister ! sure not that ; 
Hafi, what's this, you jealous? 


Well, perhaps 

It may be so. I'd gladly have her brain, 
And gladly have her heart as well. 


As yet he's ever paid my claims in full ; 

188 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

And will do so to-day, misdoubt him not ; 
Now go, Al Han, go ; I fain would send 
To fetch the gold. 


No; I'll no longer play 
A farce like this; he's sure to find it out 
Sooner or later. 


Find out what, and whom? 


Was this your promise, Han? is it thus 
You keep your word? 


Well, well, but could I guess 
The jest would go so far? 


Come, out with it ! 


Al Hafi, I implore you be discreet. 


Nay, this is something strange ; what can it be 
Sittah so vehemently deprecates, 
So passionately of a stranger begs ; 
Ay, of a Dervish, rather than of me 
Her brother? Hafi, I command you now 
To tell me what it is speak, Dervish, speak ! 



Not only has she ta'en 
Nothing from me 


The noble girl has made 
Advances in addition ! is it so ? 


Ay, she's maintained the cost of all your court ; 
Unaided paid your whole expenditure. 

SALADIN (embracing SITTAH). 
Ah that indeed is like you, sister mine I 


Who but my brother made me rich enough 
To do so? 


Ay, and soon he'll make of her 
A pauper like himself. 


A pauper I ! 

When had I ever more or less than now? 
A robe, a sword, a charger, and a God ; 
What need I more? and these I ne'er can lack. 
And yet, Al Hafi, I could scold you too. 


Oh, brother, scold him not I would to God 
That I could thus allay our father's cares. 

**f NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


My brother, suffer not a little thing 
To move you more than it is meet it should. 
You know right well I have full many a time 
Won just as much as this from you at chess ; 
But since just now I do not need the gold, 
And since just now the gold in Han's chest 
Is none too plentiful, I've let it stand 
Unpaid as yet ; but be you well assured 
I am not minded, brother, to bestow 
My gains on you, or Hafi, or his chest. 


Were this but all ! 


Well, sundry other sums 
I've left as a deposit in his hands. 
The stipend, too, which you assigned to me 
For some few months hath lain with him on 

E'en that's not all. 


Not all? then tell me all. 


Whilst we've awaited these Egyptian sums 

Why hear his talk? 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 191 


Ah, now you dash my happiness again. 
Nothing is lacking, or can lack, to me ; 
But he lacks all, and we all share his lack. 
What shall I do ? belike it will be long 
Ere Egypt sends the gold, why this should be 
God only knows, for all is peaceful there. 
I can retrench, reduce, economise, 
And gladly, when it touches me alone, 
And not my friends but what can that avail? 
A horse, a cloak, a sword, I still must have ; 
And nought can be abated from my God ; 
He is content with such a little thing; 
My heart alone Hafi, I counted much 
Upon your surplus. 


Surplus ! say yourself 

If you would not have had me soon impaled, 
Or strangled at the least, had I been caught 
With surpluses downright embezzlement 1 
Had been a safer thing to venture on. 

Well, what must now be done? Say, could you 


Have borrowed first of all from some one else 
Than Sittah? 


Brother, think you I'd be robbed 

^ee Note 24. 

192 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

Of such a privilege and that by him? 
I still would claim it I am not as yet 
Entirely stranded. 


Not entirely yet ! 

That still was wanting to complete the wrong. 
Haste you, Al Hafi, go forthwith contrive ; 
Collect from whom you can and how you can ; 
Go, borrow, promise ; only borrow not 
From those whom I've enriched; to ask from 


Might look like reclamation of my gifts. 
Go to the greediest, such are ever sure 
Most readily to lend, since well they know 
How well their moneys fatten in my hands. 


I know none such. 


It just occurs to me 

I've somehow heard, Al Hafi, that your friend 
Has now returned. 

AL HAFI (with surprise). 

My friend, say you, my friend? 
And who might that be? 


Your belauded Jew. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 193 


A Jew belauded and by me? 


The man 

How well I recollect your very words 
The man to whom his God had richly given 
At once the greatest of all earthly gifts 
And the most worthless. 


Said I so? by that 
I wonder what I could have meant. 


You meant 

That wisdom was the greatest gift of God, 
Riches the smallest. 


What ! this of a Jew ! 
When could I e'er have said so of a Jew ? 

You said it of your Nathan sure you did. 


Of Nathan ? well, of him perhaps I did ; 
I did not think of him. But is it true 
That he is once more home again at last? 
If so, you may be sure he's prospered well ; 

194 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

Ay, ay, his folk have dubbed him long the 

The Rich as well. 


They call him now the Rich 
More than they ever did ; the city rings 
With tidings of the rich and costly wares 
He now has brought. 


If he's once more the Rich, 
Then of a truth he'll be once more the Wise. 

What think you, Hafi, why not go to him? 


For what? to borrow? ah, you little know 
What Nathan is he lend! his wisdom lies 
Just in the fact that he will lend to none. 


Yet, Hafi, formerly you drew of him 
A very different picture. 


Well, at need 
He'll lend you wares but gold oh never 


Oh no, not gold. And yet in other points, 
He is a Jew unlike all other Jews; 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 195 

Has common sense, knows life, plays well at 

chess ; 

Yet he excels in bad as well as good 
All other Jews besides count not on him. 
He gives unto the poor, 'tis true, and gives 
As much perhaps as Saladin himself, 
Or if not quite as much, as willingly ; 
Without distinction, too, since Frank and Jew, 
Parsee and Mussulman, are all alike 
To Nathan. 


Say you so? 


How comes it then 
That I've ne'er heard before of such a man? 


Would he refuse to lend to Saladin? 
To Saladin who asks for others' needs, 
And never for his own. 


Ay, here again 

You see the Jew, the common sordid Jew. 
Trust me, where generosity conies in 
He's downright jealous of all other men, 
As if he fain would draw unto himself 
Each God reward you that's exclaimed on 

earth ; 
And for this very cause he lends to none 

196 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

That he may ever have the means to give. 
Since charity's commanded by his law, 
Not mere complaisance, charity itself 
Makes him the most ungracious churl on earth. 
'Tis true that he and I for some time back 
Have been a trifle strange, but never think 
That I for this would do him any wrong ; 
He's good for all things else, but not for this, 
Not for a lender. Now I'll go at once 
And knock at other doors ay, sure enough, 
I now bethink me of a certain Moor 
Who's rich and greedy too. I'll go to him. 

But, Hafi, why such haste ? 


E'en let him go. 



He hastes away as if his only wish 
Were to escape. I wonder what he means; 
Think you he honestly decried the Jew, 
Or that he only seeks to put us off? 


Why ask me this? I hardly know as yet 
Of whom you talked until this very day 


I never heard the name of this your Jew, 
Your Nathan. 


Is it possible a man 

Should be unknown to you, of whom 'tis said 
He hath ransacked the tombs of Solomon 
And David too; and by a word of might, 
A secret spell, hath power to burst their seals ; 
From thence he brings to light, from time to 


The boundless stores of riches which bespeak 
No lesser source than these. 


Nay, if the man 

Hath dug his boundless riches out of tombs, 
Be sure it was not out of Solomon's 
Or David's either, they but hold the bones 
Of fools 


Or miscreants, perhaps and yet, 
Whate'er the source, 'tis more productive far, 
More inexhaustible, than Mammon's cave. 


Ay, for he is a trader, as I heard. 


His dromedaries fare on every track 
And plod each desert's sands; his barks are 

198 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

In every haven this Al Hafi's self 
Hath often told me ; adding with delight 
How grandly and how nobly this his friend 
Employs the wealth he doth not scorn to win 
With such sagacity and diligence; 
How free his soul from every prejudice ; 
To virtue how accessible his heart, 
And how in harmony with all that's fair. 


And yet he spoke so doubtfully but now, 
So coldly of him. 


No, not coldly, yet 

He seemed in doubt, as if he ventured not 
To praise him overmuch, yet had no mind 
To blame him overmuch without a cause. 
Can it be possible that e'en the best 
Of all b,is race is powerless to shun 
The foibles of his race ; and that, for this, 
Al Hafi truly had to blush for him ? 
Howe'er it be, whether he's more than Jew 
Or less, he's rich ; and that's enough for us. 


But, sister, sure you would not take his wealth 
By downright force? 


What mean you, then, by force ? 
By fire and sword, belike ? Oh no, not that. 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 199 

What force, forsooth, is needful with the weak 
Save their own weakness ? But now come with 


To my own private chamber ; there you'll hear 
A songstress whom I purchased yesterday; 
Meanwhile a scheme may ripen in my brain 
I've planned for working on this Nathan 


SCENE IV. In front of NATHAN'S house, adjoining 
the grove of palm trees. NATHAN and RECHA is- 
suing from the house. DAYA, later, meeting them. 


Oh father, you have tarried long I fear 
That you'll no longer find him there. 


Well, well, 

If he's no longer there beneath the palms, 
We'll find him somewhere else be calm, see 

Is that not Day a coming to us? 


I fear she must have lost him quite. 

200 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Oh, no, 

Not quite. 

If not, she would not come so slow. 


She has not seen us yet. 


But now she does. 


And doubles now her speed see, see be calm; 
I pray you to be calm. 


What! would you wish 
To have a daughter capable of calm 
In such a case regardless of the lot 
Of him who saved a life that's dear to her 
Only because she owed it first to you? 


I would not have you other than you are, 
E'en if I knew that now your soul was stirred 
By feelings of another kind. 


What kind? 
What mean you, father? 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 201 


Need you ask of me ? 
So coyly too so timidly of me? 
Whatever may be passing in your breast 
Is Nature's blameless working never fear 
E'en as I fear not only promise me, 
If e'er your heart should speak in plainer tones, 
You will not hide from me the lightest wish 
That it may form. 


I tremble at the thought 
That e'er my heart could shroud itself from you. 


No more of this 'tis settled once for all 

But here comes Daya well, what news of him? 


He still is pacing underneath the palms, 
And soon he'll pass beside yon wall see there, 
He's coming now. 


He seems irresolute 

Whether to go straight on or back again ; 
To right or left. 


No, no, he sometimes goes 
Round by the cloister seldom, it is true, 

202 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

But if he does, he then must pass this way ; 
What will you wager on't? 


You're right, you're right! 
But did you speak with him, and what's his 

Just as it ever is. 


Then have a care 

Lest he perceive you step a little back; 
Or, better still, return, and go within. 


Oh for another look plague on that copse 
Which robs me of him now ! 


Come, come, 

Your father's right ; if he should see you here, 
The chances are he'll disappear at once. 

That odious, odious copse ! 


If suddenly 

He should emerge from it, he cannot fail 
To see you where you stand, so go at once ; 
I pray you to be gone. 

*J<^ *i* . 


Facsimile of a page of the first draft of the Poem, in possession of a member 
of the Mendelssohn family in Berlin. 



Come, come, I know 
A lattice whence we'll see them. 


Be it so. 
(RECHA and DAYA return to the house.) 

SCENE V. NATHAN, and presently the TEMPLAR. 


I almost shrink from this eccentric boy; 
His rugged virtues well-nigh make me start. 
Strange that one man should have the subtle 


To move and agitate another thus! 
Ha! here he comes by Heaven, he is indeed 
A manly youngster ay, I like him well, 
His bold defiant look, his jaunty stepj 
What though the shell be rough, the kernel, sure, 
Will not be that I've somewhere seen his like. 

(To the TEMPLAR.) 
Forgive me, noble Frank. 


For what? 


I pray 

204 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


What, Jew ? 


For license to accost you, sir. 


Can I prevent it well, at least be brief. 


Oh stay ; oh hasten not so proudly on ; 
Oh pass not with such lofty scorn a man 
Whom you have made your debtor evermore ! 


How so? Ah, now I guess belike you are 


Nathan'^ my name I'm father of the maid 
Your reckless courage rescued from the flames ; 
I come to 


If to thank me, pray forbear; 
I've had to bear too great a load of thanks 
Already for this trifle and besides 
You owe me nothing. Think you that I knew 
The maid you speak of was a child of yours? 
A Templar's duty is to render help 
To every fellow-creature in distress. 
Moreover, when I did the deed, my life 


Was but a burden to me, and I seized 
I gladly seized, the opportunity 
To risk it for another, even though 
'Twere but a Jewish girl. 


'Tis grandly said ; 

Grand, yet forbidding! still, I comprehend 
The turn you give it modest heroism 
Takes refuge oft behind forbidding forms 
To shun our admiration. If you spurn 
The tribute of my thanks, what other meed 
Would you scorn less? Sir knight, if you were 


A stranger and a captive in our midst, 
I would not speak so boldly yet command 
In what I now can serve you. 


You? in nought. 


I'm rich. 


The richer Jew to me was ne'er 
The better Jew. 


Yet haply could you not, 
In spite of that, bethink you of a use 
For what of good he has? I mean his wealth. 

206 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Well, were it only for my mantle's sake 

I will not quite decline your proffered help; 

As soon as it is wholly gone to rags, 

When neither stitch nor patch shall serve its 


I'll come and borrow of you stuff or cash 
To make another nay, look not at once 
So black about it for the nonce you're safe; 
The matter has not come to that as yet ; 
You see 'tis still in tolerable case ; 
Only this corner of it, as you see, 
Displays an ugly mark, for it was singed ; 
And that befell it as I bore your girl 
From out the flames. 

NATHAN (taking in his hand the singed corner of 
the TEMPLAR'S mantle, and contemplating it). 

Alack, 'tis passing strange 

That this grim spot, this brand-mark of the fire, 
Should speak a better witness for the man. 
Than his own lips! I fain would kiss it, sir, 
This spot. Ah, pardon me I meant it not. 
(A tear falls from his eye on the knighfs mantle). 


What meant you not ? 


To shed this tear on it. 



It matters not 'tis but a drop the more. 

Methinks this Jew begins to puzzle me. 


Permit me for a moment, sir, to take 
Your mantle to my daughter. 


Wherefore that? 


That she may press her lips upon this spot, 
Since now it is in vain for her to hope 
To clasp your knees. 


Jew, Jew ! or if your name 
Be Nathan, well then, Nathan, I protest 
You fit your words with wondrous force and 

point ; 
I know not what to say. Perhaps, perhaps 


Feign and disguise your motives as you will, 
I see you through you were too generous, 
Too good, to be more courtly than you were; 
A melting maiden, an ambassadress 
Too pressing, and a father far away ; 

208 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

Ay, you were careful of her fair good name; 
You shunned to try her fled from victory 
For this, too, I would thank you. 


Well, I own 
You know at least how Templars ought to feel. 


What! Templars only ay, and only ought 
Because their Order's rules prescribe it so? 
I know how good men think, and well I know 
That good men are produced in every land. 


Yet with a difference, I hope ? 


Just so, 
A difference of color, form, and dress. 


And number, too, perhaps, in various lands? 


Such small distinctions are of little weight; 
The great man everywhere needs elbow-room. 
Too many, planted in too straight a space, 
Resemble trees which bruise each other's boughs ; 
The middling good, like us, are found in crowds ; 
But each must dwell in charity with all; 


The knot must not look down upon the gnarl j 1 
Nor let the topmost twig presume to think 
That it alone sprang not from mother earth. 


'Tis said right well yet you must know the 


Which slandered first of all their fellow-men ; 
Know you not, Nathan, who the people are 
Who first pronounced themselves "The Chosen 


How if I hated not that race indeed, 
And yet could not refrain from scorning them 
For arrogance like this, bequeathed by them 
To Christian and to Mussulman alike, 
Who too must boast their God alone as true, 
You start to hear a Templar speak like this; 
A Christian and a Templar ; but I ask 
When, ay and where, has this fond dream of 


That they alone possess the one true God; 
This pious rage to force on all the world 
This better God of theirs as best of all ; 
Where has it shown itself in blacker form 
Than here, and now 3 since here and now the 


Still blind their eyes ? However, let it be ; 
Let him be blind who will. Forget my words, 
And let me go ! 

'See Note 25. 'See Note 26. 

210 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Good youth, you do not know 
How much more close I now must cling to you ; 
We must be friends, we must, despise my race 
As much as e'er you please we did not choose 
Our races for ourselves. Do you and I 
Make up our races ? what is race forsooth ? 
Are Jews and Christians Christians and Jews 
Rather than men? oh, if I've found in you 
One more for whom it is enough to be 


Ay, Nathan, that you have, by Heaven; 
You have indeed ! your hand ! I blush to think 
That for a moment I misjudged you thus. 


And I am proud of it for common souls 
Are seldom thus misjudged. 


Uncommon ones 

Can hardly be forgot. Ay, Nathan, ay, 
We must be friends. 


We are already that. 

Oh, how my Recha will be gladdened now, 
And what a bright perspective opens up 
Before my eyes ! Oh, if you knew her, sir I 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 211 


I burn to do so. But see there who's this 
Bursts from your house? It is your Daya, sure. 


'Tis she and agitated too! 


God grant 
That nought has happened to our Recha now. 

SCENE VI. DAYA in haste to the Preceding. 

Oh Nathan, Nathan! 


Well, what scares you thus? 


Oh pardon me, my noble knight, if now 
I interrupt you. 


What's the matter ? Speak. 


The Sultan sends for you the Sultan seeks 
To speak with you the Sultan oh my Godl 

212 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


With me ! the Sultan ! possibly he wants 

To view the wares I've brought ; he must be told 

That few or none have been unpacked as yet. 


No, no he would view nought ; he only wants 
To speak with you, as soon as e'er you can. 

Well then, I'll go to him and go you home. 


Worshipful knight, excuse us, I entreat; 
My God ! we are so anxious as to what 
The Sultan wants ! 


We'll know it soon enough. 

(DAYA goes). 



And so you know him not as yet; I mean 
In person. 


Who ? the Sultan no, not yet. 
I have not shunned him ; neither have I sought 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 213 

To see him; for the universal voice 
Spoke things of him I gladly took on trust; 
And even if he equals not his fame, 
Yet, by the sparing of your life 


Ay, true, 

I never can forget the life I live 
Is but a gift from him. 


Through which he gave 
A double, nay a treble life to me. 
This alters all between us this alone 
Has bound me to his service with a cord 
I ne'er can snap. I'm all anxiety 
To know his wishes. I'm prepared for all ; 
Ay, I am e'en prepared to own to him 
Tis for your sake that I am thus prepared. 


And I myself have never had a chance 

To thank him, often as I've crossed his path. 

T would seem the impression that I made on him 

Has died away as quickly as it rose. 

Belike he now remembers me no more ; 

And yet he must one day remember me, 

If it be only to decide my fate. 

'Tis not sufficient that at his command, 

And at his pleasure, I am living still; 

214 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

I've yet to learn according to whose will 
I must in future shape the life he gave. 


Just so then let me hasten to him now. 
Who knows perhaps he may let fall a word 
That may permit me to allude to you. 
Pardon my haste I may not tarry more. 
When will you come to us? 


Whene'er I may. 


And that's whene'er you will. 


Well then, to-day. 


And, if I may presume to ask, your name? 


It was well it is Curd von Stauffen Curd 


Von Stauffen ? Stauffen ? Stauffen ? 


Why does this 
Surprise you so? 



Von Stauffen? I presume 
That many bear the name. 


Oh yes or did ; 

Here rot the bones of many of the race; 
My uncle's self or father, I should say 

But wherefore do you ever scan me thus, 
More and more keenly ? 


Oh, 'tis nothing nought. 
Can I e'er weary of beholding you? 


Then I will leave you now the gazer's eye 
Full oft sees more than e'er it thought to see ; 
Trust it not, Nathan ; no, leave it to time, 
Not curiosity, to make us known. (He goes.) 

NATHAN (looking after him with astonishment}. 
The gazer's eye,' he said, 'full oft sees more 
Than e'er it thought to see.' It seems as if 
He read my soul and yet it well might be 
Wolf's stature, and his step, his very voice. 
'Twas thus Wolf ever used to toss his head ; 
Just so Wolf bore his sword across his arm ; 
Just so he held his hand to shade his eyes, 
As if to veil the lightning of his glance. 
How these deep-graven memories at times 
Appear to slumber in our minds until 

216 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

A word, a tone, awakes them ! Can it be ? 
Von Stauffen ! ay, Filneck and Stauffen right ! 
Soon will I look more closely into this. 
Meanwhile, to Saladin. But, by my word, 
Daya's been listening! Ho, Daya, here! 



I'll wager now the hearts of both of you 
Are burning to discover something else 
Than what the Sultan has to say to me. 


And can you blame her? You had just begun 
To parley with him on more friendly terms 
When Saladin's unlucky summons came 
And scared us from the casement. 


Tell her, then, 

That she at any moment may expect 
A visit from him. 


Positively so? 


Daya, I think I may rely on you. 

Be on your guard, I pray ; you shall not rue't, 

Sc. ix. NATHAN THE WISE 217 

Even your Christian scruples may be stilled 
By what may follow. Do not mar my plans. 
Whate'er you say to her, whate'er you ask, 
Be prudent and reserved. 


I scarcely need 

Advice like this. I go ; and go yourself ; 
For see, I do believe the Sultan sends 
A second messenger to fetch you now ; 
Your Dervish, your Al Hafi, comes this way. 



Ha ! I was making for you even now. 


Is it so pressing then, what can he wish 
Of me? 




Saladin I'm going now. 

To whom? to Saladin? 

218 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Is it not he 
Who sent you? 


What ? Sent me oh, not at all. 
So it appears that he has sent for you. 


Ay, that he has. 


Well then, the mischief's donel 


What mischief, Hafi? 


Tis no fault of mine; 

God knows it's not. What is there I've not said, 
What lies not told of you, to stave it off I 


To stave off what ? What mischief do you mean ? 


That now you must become his Treasurer. 
I pity you, and will not stay to see 't; 
I'll go this very hour you well know where, 
And know the way, too. Is there anything 
That I can do for you where I am bound? 
I'm at your service, only charge me not 

Sc. ix. NATHAN THE WISE 219 

With more than such a naked wretch as I 
Can take along with me. I'm off at once; 
Say quickly what's your will. 


Al Hafi, think; 

Remember I'm completely in the dark; 
What means this chatter? 


I suppose you'll take 
Your money bags with you. 


My money bags? 


The gold you'll have to lend to Saladin, 


Is that the worst? 


Should I look calmly on 
While he from day to day shall scoop your 


And pluck you clean and bare from top to toe? 
Should I look on while his extravagance 
From prudent bounty's else unfailing stores 
Shall borrow, borrow, borrow, till the mice, 
The very mice, poor things, that dwell therein 
Shall die of hunger? Do you haply think 

220 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 

That he who wants your gold's a likely man 
To follow your advice? he take advice! 
When did our Saladin e'er take advice? 
What think you, Nathan, I beheld him do 
This very day? 


What, then? 


I went to him 

Just as he happened to be playing chess 
With Sittah. Now, she plays a fairish hand ; 
Saladin thought that he had lost the game ; 
In fact he had already thrown it up. 
The board was there I gave it but a look, 
And found the game was far from being lost 


Ay, I'll l>e bound, a precious find for you 1 


He needed only to advance his king 
Beside his pawn, to counteract her check 
Could I but show you now. 


I doubt it not. 


And then the rook had held the field, and she 
Had lost the game so I explained the case ; 
And said to him reflect! 

Sc. ix. NATHAN THE WISE 221 


And he, belike, 
Would not agree with you. 


Agree, forsooth! 

He would not even hear me ; but in fume 
Dashed down the chess-board I 


Is it possible? 


And absolutely said he chose to lose! 
Chose! do you call that chess? 


Well, hardly so; 
Tis playing with the game. 


And yet the stake 
Was no mere nut-shell. 


Plague upon the stake; 
That was the least of it but to be deaf 
To your advice to shut his ears to you 
On such a grave and weighty point as that ; 
Not to appreciate your eagle glance; 
That cries aloud for vengeance does it not? 

222 NATHAN THE WISE Act ii. 


Tut! can't you see I only told the tale 
That you might judge the sort of head he has. 
In short, I can no longer bear with him; 
Here I've been hunting up these greasy Moors, 
To see if any will advance him gold. 
I, who ne'er played the beggar for myself, 
Must borrow now for him ! Your borrowing 
Is little better than your begging ; while 
To lend, at least to lend on usury, 
Is little better than it is to steal. 
Among my patrons on the Ganges' banks 
>I need do neither'; 1 no, nor be a tool 
For either purpose. Ay, on Ganges' banks, 
By Ganges only, are there real men ; 
And you're the only one of all those here 
Who fits to dwell there. Come along with me ; 
Leave in the lurch at once your gold and him; 
The glittering dross is all he wants of you; 
He's sure to wring it from you in the end ; 
So, better make an end of it at once ; 
And I'll provide you with a pilgrim's frock." 
Come, come! 


Nay, Hafi, it appears to me 
We can at any time fall back on this. 
Meanwhile, have patience while I think it o'er. 

'See Note 27. 'See Note 28. 

Sc. be. NATHAN THE WISE 223 


What ! think it o'er indeed ! a thing like this 
Requires no thinking o'er. 


Well, wait at least 

Till I've returned from seeing Saladin, 
And said good-bye. 


The man who hesitates 
Seeks only for excuses not to act ; 
And he who cannot instantly resolve 
To live unto himself, remains for aye 
The slave of others. Be it as you please. 
Good-bye, my way is here, and yours is there. 


But, Hafi, I presume before you go 

You'll have to square your treasury accounts. 


Accounts, indeed ! the balance in my chest 
Is not worth counting; as for the accounts, 
Sittah or you will surely vouch for them. 
Good-bye. (He goes.) 

NATHAN (looking after him). 

I will, you rough but noble soul. 
What shall I say ? your genuine beggar is, 
When all is told, your only genuine king. 

(He goes in another direction.) 

224 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 






Daya, what was it that my father said; 
That any moment I might look for him? 
That sounds as if he would appear at once; 
And yet how many have elapsed in vain ! 
But wherefore think upon the moments passed? 
Let me live only for each coming one ; 
The one that brings him here must come at last. 


Plague on the summons to the Sultan's court! 
Nathan assuredly had but for this 
Brought him at once. 


And when the moment comes, 
And when my warmest, my most heart- felt wish 
Shall be fulfilled at last what then? 


What then? 


Why, then I hope my warmest wish at last 
Shall be fulfilled as well. 


But, oh, my wish ! 

When 'tis accomplished, what shall take its place, 
Or what succeed it in this wayward heart 
Which now hath lost the very power to beat 
Without some dominating wish? a void? 
I tremble at the thought ! 


Nay, mine shall then 

Take up the place of yours my yearning wish 
That you should dwell in Europe, and with those 
Who may be worthy of you. 


Nay, you err; 

The very thing that makes you hug that wish 
Prevents it from becoming ever mine. 
Your native land attracts you to its shores, 
And think you mine should have no charms for 


Or can the image of your far-off friends 
Still lingering faintly in your memory, 
Move you more vividly than I am moved 
By those I daily see and touch and hear; 
My dear ones here? 


Nay, struggle as you will, 
The ways of Heaven still are Heaven's ways; 

226 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

What if your rescuer should prove to be 
The chosen instrument by whom his God, 
Whose champion he is, hath fore-ordained 
That you should be transported to the land 
And to the race for whom 'tis manifest 
Your birth intended you? 


Oh, Daya, dear, 

Must you still harp on idle prate like this? 
Your head is haunted by the strangest whims. 
His God, forsooth, whose champion he is! 
Whose chattel, then, is God ? what sort of God 
Is that a man can claim as his alone, 
And needs a man to be his champion ? 
And how know we the special spot of earth 
For which we're destined, if it be not that 
On which we first drew breath ? fie, Daya, fie ! 
Father would frown to hear you talk like this. 
What has he done to you that ever thus 
You paint my happiness so far from him ? 
How has he wronged you, that you ever strive 
To mingle your indigenous flowers or weeds 
Amid pure reason's seeds so wisely sown 
By him within my soul? Nay, Daya dear, 
He would not gladly have your gaudy blooms 
In my heart's soil ; and I must tell you too, 
However bravely they might clothe that soil, 
They sap its essence and exhaust its force; 
Their sickly odor makes my senses reel ; 
Your head is more accustomed to their fume; 


I do not chide you for the stouter nerves 
Which render it supportable to you ; 
It likes not me. Your precious angel, too; 
How nearly had that folly turned my brain! 
E'en now I blush to think upon the farce 
Whene'er I meet my father. 


Farce, forsooth! 

As if all wisdom were confined to you. 
Oh, if I dared to speak! 


And dare you not? 

When, let me ask you, was I not all ear 
When you extolled the heroes of your faith? 
When grudged I admiration of their deeds ; 
Or when withheld the tribute of my tears 
For all their sufferings? Their creed, I own, 
Ne'er struck me as their most heroic point; 
And then I drew more comfort from the thought 
That true devotion to Almighty God 
Hangs not upon the fancies we may hold 
As to His nature or His attributes. 
Oh, Daya dear, my father hath so oft 
Expounded this to us ; and you yourself 
So oft have owned the justice of his view, 
Why do you seek to undermine the faith 
Which you yourself have aided him to build? 
But, Daya, this is surely not a theme 
With which most fitly to await our friend. 


And yet for me it may be ; since for me 
How much depends on whether he, too Hark! 
Hark, Daya, comes not some one to the door? 
Oh, if it should be he! 


AN ATTENDANT (ushering in the TEMPLAR.) 

This way, sir knight! 

'Tis he my rescuer ! 

(Profoundly agitated, she seems about to fall 
at the TEMPLAR'S feet.) 


But for the wish 
To shurf this scene, I had appeared ere now. 


My wish is, at the feet of this proud man, 
To thank my God alone and not the man. 
The man desires no thanks ; ay, no more thanks 
Than does the water jar which in his hands 
Was busied in extinguishing the flames, 
Passively filled and emptied passively, 
With ne'er a thought of me. Just so the man. 
Blind chance alone impelled him 'mid the flames ; 
Blind chance it was which cast me in his arms; 
And there I lay by sheer mechanic chance, 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 229 

As any spark upon his mantle might, 
Until some other chance expelled us both 
From out the fire. What is there here for thanks ? 
In Europe often wine impels a man 
To stranger things than this ; and Templars, sure, 
Are bound to do no less ay, sure they're bound, 
Like somewhat better educated dogs, 
To pluck alike from water and from fire. 

TEMPLAR (who has heard her words with wonder 

and emotion). 

Oh, Daya, Daya, if, in tortured hours 
Of care and choler, my ungracious mood 
May have incensed you, why retail to her 
Each hasty word that then escaped my lips? 
That, Daya, was too spiteful a revenge ; 
Yet if in future you'll interpret me 
To her in kinder terms 


Methinks, sir knight, 
The little stabs you levelled at her heart 
Have wrought therein but little harm to you. 


But can it be you've been a prey to care, 
And yet have been more chary of your grief 
Than of your life! 


My gentle, kindly child! 
Oh, how my ravished soul is now possessed 

230 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

By eye and ear ! This never was the maid, 
Oh no, it cannot be the maid I snatched 
From out the fire ; for who could have beheld 
A maiden such as this, and failed to snatch 
Her witching form from out the fieriest fire? 
Who could have hesitated ? but in sooth 
She was disguised, distorted by affright. 

(He pauses, rapt in admiration of her.} 


And yet I find you just the same as then. 

(She pauses, then resumes, to interrupt his 

Now say, sir knight, where you have been so 

And I might even ask where are you now? 


I am, perhaps, where I ought not to be. 


And been, perhaps, where you should not have 

This is not well. 


I've been upon the mount ; 
Mount Sinai, is it? Ay, men call it so. 

On Sinai, have you? I am glad of that, 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 231 

For now I may discover for a fact 

Whether 'tis true that (She hesitates.) 


Whether what is true? 
That there the very spot may yet be seen 
Where Moses stood in presence of his God? 


Oh no, not that ; since wheresoe'er he stood, 
He must have stood in presence of his God; 
Of that I am sure. I only wished to know 
Whether 'tis true that to ascend that mount 
Is far less toilsome than descent from it ; 
For look, with all the hills that e'er I've climbed 
'Twas just the opposite. But how, sir knight, 
You turn away, and will not look on me. 


Because I'd rather hear you. 


Nay, methinks 

It is because you fain would hide from me 
Your scorn of my simplicity. You smile 
Because I have not asked you weightier things 
Regarding that most holy hill of hills; 
Is it not so ? 


In that case I must now 

Again look in your eyes. Why cast them down, 
Or why suppress your smile ? Why seek to hide 

232 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

That which I fain would read within your looks, 
That which your fitful features speak so plain? 1 
Ah, Recha, Recha, well did Nathan say, 
'Oh, if you knew her!' 


Who said that to you, 
And in respect of whom? 


Your father did; 

'Oh, if you knew her,' were the words he said, 
And said of you. 


Have I not said it too, 
And many a time? 


But tell me where he is; 
Where is your father? Closeted as yet 
With Saladin? 


He must be. 


What! still there? 

Oh, I forgot. No, no, he can't be there ; 
He surely must be waiting for me now 
Down there beside the cloister. Ay, 'twas so 

'See Note 29. 


That we arranged together pardon me, 
I go to fetch him. 


Nay, leave that to me ; 
Stay here, sir knight ; I'll fetch him here at once. 


Not so, not so; he yonder looks for me, 
And not for you. Besides, it well might be 
Who knows? it well might chance, with 


You do not know the Sultan possibly 
He's met with trouble; trust me, there is risk. 
Should I not hasten to him? 


Risk! what risk? 


Danger for him, for you, for me, unless 

I quickly go to him. (He goes.) 



Daya, what can it mean? 
So sudden so abrupt! What drives him hence? 


E'en let him go. Methinks 'tis no bad sign. 



A sign? of what? 


That something works within; 
Boils in his blood yet must not over-boil. 
E'en let him be I think 'tis now your turn. 


My turn? Why, Daya, you become, like him, 
A riddle to me. 


Well, I mean that soon 
It may be in your power to pay him back 
For all the suffering he caused to you ; 
But be not too revengeful, too severe. 

You best can tell the meaning of your words. 


But tell me, is your calm restored at last? 

Ay, that it is, thank Heaven. 


And now confess 

His want of calm rejoices you in turn, 
And that you owe the calm you now enjoy 
To his unrest. 

Sc. in. NATHAN THE WISE 235 


If so, I know it not; 
The most I'm able to confess to you 
Is that it fills me with astonishment 
How such a sudden tempest in my breast 
Should be succeeded by this sudden calm. 1 
His look, his speech, his every gesture seem 
To have to have 


Appeased your hunger? 


I will not say appeased it; far from that. 


Well, dulled the edge of it at least. 


Perhaps ; 
Since you will have it so. 


Oh, no, not I. 


To me he must be ever dear, more dear 
Than life itself, though haply now my pulse 
Flutters no longer at his very name, 
And though the lightest thought of him has 

'See Note 30. 

236 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

To stir my bosom with a swifter throb 
But wherefore chatter thus ? Come, Daya, come, 
Let us once more unto the lattice hie 
That looks toward the palms. 


So then, it seems, 
The craving hunger's not yet quite appeased. 

Nay, now I'll see the palms themselves once 

Not merely him beneath them. 


This cold fit 
Heralds another fever-fit, I fear. 


How cold? I am not cold. Can I not see, 
With equal pleasure, what I calmly see? 

SCENE IV. An Audience-chamber in the Palace 
of the Sultan. 


SALADIN (addressing an attendant). 
Bring the Jew here as soon as e'er he comes. 

He seems, forsooth, in no great haste to come. 



Belike he was not to be found at once. 


Ah, sister, sister! 


Saladin, you look 
As if a battle were before you. 


And one with weapons I've ne'er learned to 


I must dissemble here, inspire alarm, 
And set my traps, and play the hypocrite; 
When could I do the like ; where learned I that ? 
And all this I must practise now, for what? 
For what, indeed? to fish for filthy gold; 
Bully a Jew to make him yield his hoards 1 
Is Saladin at last reduced to this? 
To such base practices? and all to win 
The very paltriest of paltry things! 


But even paltry things, when scorned too much, 
Can take revenge on us. 


Alas, 'tis true; 

And what if this same Jew should prove to be 
As good and wise as Hafi said he was? 

238 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


If that be so, your difficulty's gone ; 
The snare is needed not for such as he, 
But for your greedy, grasping, fearful Jew, 
Not for your good and wise one, this Jew, then, 
Were ours already with no need of snares, 
And if he's not, at least you'll have the treat 
Of hearing how a man like this will speak ; 
With what audacious firmness he may strive 
At once to rend your toils, or else, perhaps, 
How craftily and with what sly pretence 
He'll wriggle out of them. 


Ay, that is true: 
I like the thought of it. 


So nothing now 

Need further harass you; for if he be 
One of the common sort; if he should prove 
Merely a Jew like any other Jew, 
Why, then you need not blush to seem to him 
Just what he fancies other men to be; 
He who could show himself to one like that 
In fairer colors, would appear to him 
No better than a fool. 


And must I, then, 
Act evilly that thus the evil man 
May not think evil of me? 



Surely so, 

If you can call it acting evilly 
To use a thing according to its kind. 


What is there that a woman's wit contrives 
That it can not excuse ! 


Excuse, indeed! 


And yet I fear this fine and fragile scheme 
May break in my coarse hand ; a thing like this 
Must needs be worked as it has been conceived, 
With due astuteness and dexterity; 
But be it so I'll dance as best I may, 
And yet I'd liefer caper ill than well. 


Rely not all so little on yourself; 
I'll answer for you, if you only try. 
'Tis strange that men of such a stamp as you 
So gladly would persuade us that the sword, 
The sword alone, hath raised them up so high ; 
The lion is ashamed, forsooth, to hunt 
With the sly fox but, then, he is ashamed 
Not of the cunning only of the fox! 

Strange too that women love to drag the man 

240 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

Down to their level! But now, Sittah, go; 
I think I know my lesson pretty well. 

What? must I go? 


You would not, sure, remain? 


If not just here, at least I'd like to wait 
In the adjoining room. 


To listen there? 

No, no, my sister, if I'm to succeed ; 
Out, out, the curtain rustles here he comes, 
I'll take good care you do not loiter here. 
(As SITTAH withdraws by one door, NATHAN 
enter's by another. SALADIN seats himself.) 



Draw nearer, Jew still nearer close to me; 
And without fear. 


Nay, fear is for your foes. 



You call you Nathan? 




Nathan the Wise? 




Well then, if you don't, the people do. 


The people? possibly. 


Do you suppose 

I think so lightly of the people's voice? 
Long have I wished to look upon the man 
They call the Wise. 


What if they called him that 
Only in jest ; and what if wise to them 
Meant only shrewd the shrewd man only he 
Who rightly knows wherein his profit lies? 

You mean his truest profit, I presume? 


Then the most selfish were the shrewdest man; 

242 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

Then wise and shrewd would mean the self- 
same thing. 


You're preaching what your practice contradicts. 
Man's truest interests, which lie concealed 
From vulgar souls, are not concealed from you; 
Or, at the least, you've tried to find them out ; 
Have pondered over them, and this alone 
Proves you are wise. 


Which all men think they are. 


A truce to modesty 'tis ever apt 

To nauseate a man who only seeks 

To hear a word of downright common sense. 

(Springing up.) 

Come, let us to the point but mark me, Jew, 
Be frank be only frank! 


Sultan, be sure 

That I shall serve you so as to be held 
Worthy of further custom at your hands. 


How would you serve me? 


You shall have the best 
Of all I have, and at the fairest price. 



Whatever do you talk of? Surely not 
About your wares my sister possibly 
May chaffer with you. (Aside.) This for 

Sittah's ear, 
In case she's listening behind the door 

(Continuing to NATHAN.) 
But with the trader I have nought to do. 


Then, Sultan, doubtless you would wish to learn 
If in my wanderings I've noted aught 
Touching the plans or movements of your foes, 
Who without doubt are stirring once again, 
If I may frankly speak. 


Nor yet is this 

My purpose with you. I already know 
All that I need of this. 


Then, sire, command. 


I want your teaching as to something else ; 
Something far different and since it seems 
You are so wise, now tell me, I entreat, 
What human faith, what theologic law, 
Hath struck you as the truest and the best? 


Sire, I'm a Jew. 



And I a Mussulman; 

And here we have the Christians to boot; 
Of these three faiths one only can be true; 
A man like you would never take his stand 
Where chance or birth has cast him; or, if so, 
'Tis from conviction, reasonable grounds, 
And choice of that which is the best, well, then, 
Tell me your view, and let me hear your grounds, 
For I myself have ever lacked the time 
To rack my brains about it. Let me know 
The reasons upon which you found your faith 
In confidence, of course that I may make 
That faith my own. How, Nathan, do you start, 
And prove me with your eye? it well may be 
No Sultan e'er before had such a whim ; 
And yet it seems not utterly beneath 
Even a Sultan's notice. Speak then, speak; 
Or haply you would wish a little space 
To think it over well, I give it you. 


I'd like to know if Sittah's listening now; 
I'll go and see ; I fain would hear from her 
How I have played my part. Now, Nathan, 

Think quickly on it I'll be back anon. 

(He goes into the adjoining chamber, whither 
SITTAH had previously gone.) 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 245 


Tis strange, 'tis marvellous! what can it mean? 
What can he want? I thought he wanted gold, 
And now it seems that what he wants is Truth! 
And wants it, too, as prompt and plump as if 
Truth were a minted coin nay, if he sought 
Some obsolete coinage valued but by weight; 
That might have passed. But such a brand-new 


Vouched by the stamp and current upon change! 
No truth indeed is not a thing like that. 
Can it be hoarded in the head of man 
Like gold in bags ? Nay, which is here the Jew, 
He or myself? And yet, might he not well 
In truth have sought the truth? But then, the 


The mere suspicion, that he put the case 
But as a snare for me ! That were too small I- 
Too small? Nay, what's too petty for the great? 
He blurted out the theme so bluntly too ; 
Your friendly visitor is wont to knock 
And give you warning ere he beats you up. 
I must be on my guard. How best be that? 
I cannot play the downright bigot Jew, 
Nor may I wholly cast my Jewish slough, 
For if I'm not the Jew, he then might ask 
Why not a Mussulman ? I have it now ! 
Ay, this may serve me idle tales amuse 
Not children only well, now let him come. 

246 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


SALADIN (to himself). 
And so the coast was clear. 


I trust I've come 

Not too soon back ; I hope you've ended now 
Your meditation tell me the result; 
There's none to hear us. 


Would that all the world 
Might hear our colloquy! 


Is Nathan then 

So certain of his point? Ha! that I call 
A wise man truly ne'er to blink the truth, 
To hazard everything in quest of it; 
Body -and soul itself, and goods and life. 


Ay, when 'tis needful, or can profit us. 


Henceforth I'll hope to have a right to bear 
One of the many names by which I'm dubbed, 
"Reformer of the World and of the Law." 


In sooth it is a fair and goodly name; 
But, Sultan, ere I tell you all my thought, 
Let me relate to you a little tale. 

The celebrated Austrian actor, portraying the part of " Nathan " 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 247 


Why not? I've ever had a love for tales 
When well narrated. 


Ah, the telling well, 
That scarcely is my forte. 


Again your pride, 
Aping humility tell on, tell on. 


Well then: *In hoar antiquity there dwelt 
In eastern lands a man who had received 
From a loved hand a ring of priceless worth. 
An opal was the stone it bore, which shot 
A hundred fair and varied hues around, 
And had the mystic power to render dear 
Alike to God and man whoever wore 
The ring with perfect faith. What wonder, then, 
That eastern man would never lay it off, 
And further made a fixed and firm resolve 
That it should bide for ever with his race. 
For this he left it to his dearest son, 
Adding a stringent clause that he in turn 
Should leave it to the son he loved the most, 
And that in every age the dearest son, 
Without respect to seniority, 
By virtue of the ring alone should be 

'See Note 31. 


The lord of all the race. Sultan, I ask 
If you have marked me well. 


Ay, ay, proceed. 


And thus the ring came down from sire to son, 
Until it reached a father of three sons 
Each equally obedient to his will, 
And whom accordingly he was constrained 
To love alike. And yet from time to time, 
Whene'er the one or other chanced to be 
Alone with him, and his o'erflowing heart 
Was not divided by the other two, 
The one who stood beside him still would seem 
Most worthy of the ring; and thus it chanced 
That he by kindly weakness had been led 
To promise it in turn to each of them. 
This state of matters lasted while it could, 
But by-and-by he had to think of death, 
And then this worthy sire was sore perplexed. 
He could not brook the thought of breaking 

With two dear sons to whom he'd pledged his 

What now was to be done? He straightway 


In secret for a skilled artificer, 
And charges him to make two other rings 
Precisely like the first, at any cost. 
This the artificer contrives to do, 

Sc. vil NATHAN THE WISE 249 

And when at last he brings him all three rings 
Even the father can't say which is which. 
With joyful heart he summons then his sons, 
But singly and apart, bestows on each 
His special blessing, and his ring and dies. 
You hear me, Sultan? 

SALADIN (looking aside in perplexity). 

Ay, I hear, I hear; 
Come, make an end of it. 


I'm at the end ; 

For what's to follow may be well conceived. 
Scarce was the father dead, each several son 
Comes with his ring and claims to be the lord 
Of all his kindred. They investigate, 
Recriminate, and wrangle all in vain 
Which was the true original genuine ring 

Was undemonstrable 

(After a pause, during which he closely marks 
the SULTAN.) 

Almost as much 
As now by us is undemonstrable 
The one true faith. 


Nathan, is this to pass 
For answer to my question ? 


Sultan, no; 
'Tis only meant to serve as my excuse 

250 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

For better answer. How could I presume 
E'er to pronounce distinction 'tween the rings 
The father purposely designed to be 
Quite indistinguishable ? 


Rings, forsooth ! 

Trifle not with me thus. I should have thought 
The three religions which I named to you 
Were easy to distinguish, if alone 
By difference of dress and food and drink. 


But not by fundamental difference. 

Are they not founded all on history, 

Traditional or written? History 

Must still be taken upon trust alone; 

And who are they who best may claim our 


Surely* our people, of whose blood we are; 
Who from our infancy have proved their love, 
And never have deceived us, save, perchance, 
When kindly guile was wholesomer for us 
Than truth itself. Why should I less rely 
Upon my ancestors than you on yours; 
Or can I ask of you to give the lie 
To your forefathers, merely to agree 
With mine? and all that I have said applies 
To Christians as well. Is this not so? 

SALADIN (aside}. 

Now, by the living God, the man is right; 
I must be silent. 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 251 


Let us now return 

Once more unto our rings. As I have said, 
The sons now sued each other; each of them 
Swore to the judge he had received his ring 
Straight from his father's hand as was the 


And that, too, after he had long enjoyed 
His father's promise to bequeath the ring 
To him alone which also was the truth; 
Each vowed the father never could have proved 
So false to him; and rather than believe 
A thing like this of such a loving sire, 
He was constrained however loath he was 
To think unkindly of his brethren 
To charge them both with some nefarious trick, 
And now he would unmask their treachery 
And be avenged for such a cruel wrong. 


Well, and the Judge? for I am fain to hear 
What you will make him say, tell on, tell on. 


The Judge pronounced Unless you bring your 


And place him here before the judgment-seat, 
I must dismiss your suit. Think you I'm here 
For solving riddles? or perhaps you wait 
Until the genuine ring declares itself. 
Yet stay you said the genuine ring contains 

252 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

The magic power to make its wearer loved 
More than all else, in sight of God and man ; 
This must decide the case the spurious ring 
Will not do this say, which of you is he 
The other two most love? what, no reply? 
Your rings would seem to work reflexively, 
Not on external objects ; since it seems 
Each is enamoured of himself alone. 
Oh, then, all three of you have been deceived, 
And are deceivers too; and all three rings 
Are spurious alike the genuine ring 
Was lost, most likely, and to hide its loss, 
And to supply its place, your father caused 
These three to be made up instead of it. 

Bravo! bravo! 


And then the Judge resumed 
Belike ye would not relish my advice 
More than the judgment I have now pronounced ; 
In that case, go but my advice is this: 
Accept the case precisely as it stands; 
If each of you in truth received his ring 
Straight from his father's hand, let each believe 
His own to be the true and genuine ring. 
Perhaps your father wished to terminate 
The tyranny of that especial ring 
'Mid his posterity. Of this be sure, 
He loved you all, and loved you all alike, 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 253 

Since he was loath to injure two of you 

That he might favor one alone; well, then, 

Let each now rival his unbiased love, 

His love so free from every prejudice; 

Vie with each other in the generous strife 

To prove the virtues of the fings you wear; 

And to this end let mild humility, 

Hearty forbearance, true benevolence, 

And resignation to the will of God, 

Come to your aid, and if, in distant times, 

The virtues of the genuine gem be found 

Amid your children's children, they shall then, 

When many a thousand years have rolled away, 

Be called once more before this judgment-seat, 

Whereon a wiser man than I shall sit 

And give his verdict now, begone. Thus spake 

That sapient Judge. 


My God! 


Oh, Saladin, 
Could you but be that wiser promised man ! 

SALADIN (stepping forward and grasping NATHAN'S 

Dust that I am and nothingness ! oh, no, 
Oh, no! 


What ails thee, Sultan? 

254 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


Nathan, no; 

The thousand thousand years of that wise Judge 
Are not yet passed; nor is his judgment-seat 
For Saladin, now go but be my friend. 


And had the Sultan nought but this to say? 



What ? nothing ? 


Nought why do you ask? 


I fain had hoped occasion to prefer 
A prayer to you. 


Occasion? out with it. 


E'en now I'm come from off a distant round 
In which I have recovered many a debt, 
And now I've almost too much ready cash ; 
The times are growing critical again, 
And scarce I know where to bestow my gear ; 
So I bethought me you might possibly 
Since war, when at the door, needs store of 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 255 

I thought that peradventure you might use 
A part of mine. 

SALADIN (scanning him keenly). 

Nathan, I will not ask 
Whether Al Hafi has been at your ear, 
Or whether some suspicion of your own 
Hath led you of your own accord to make 
This offer to me. 


Some suspicion, sire? 


I well deserve it. Nathan, pardon me 
What boots concealment? I confess that now 
I was upon the point 


To ask, I trust, 
This very thing of me. 


Just so. 


Well then, 

We now shall both be suited equally ; 
But if I do not send you all my gold, 
The youthful Templar is the cause of this; 
Methinks you know him. I have yet to pay 
A heavy debt to him. 

256 NATHAN THE WISE Act iii. 


The Templar what, 

You surely would not prop my deadliest foes; 
You never would assist them with your gold? 


I speak of this one only he whose life 
You spared. 


What's this you now remind me of? 
Ay, I had utterly forgot the youth; 
You know him, Nathan ? Say, where is he now ? 


Know you not how your clemency to him 
Hath flowed through him in blessing to myself, 
And how he risked his newly-granted life 
To save my darling daughter from the flames? 


Ha ! did he so ? he looked like one who would ; 

That truly had my Assad also done, 

Whom he resembles so. Is foe still here? 

If so, then bring him straight. I've told so much 

Unto my sister of that brother dear 

Whom she ne'er knew, that I must let her see 

His very counterfeit ay, bring him here, 

And quickly. See how out of one good deed, 

Though 'twas begotten of a moment's whim, 

How many other goodly deeds may flow! 

Go, bring him. 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE 257 


That I will our other pact 
Holds good between us? (He goes.) 


Ah, I now regret 
I did not let my sister hear our talk. 
Let me to her at once; though hardly now 
Can I repeat the half of all that's passed. 

(He goes.) 

SCENE VIII. Under the palm-trees, and near the 
cloister, where the TEMPLAR is awmting NATHAN. 

TEMPLAR (in vehement conflict with himself). 

Here stands the panting quarry run to earth 
'Tis well; I would not now more closely probe 
What's passing in me, nor essay to guess 
What yet may pass. Enough, it is in vain 
That I have fled and yet I could do nought 
But seek to flee now come whate'er may come ! 
The stroke o'ertook me all too suddenly 
For me to shun it, though I struggled hard; 
And now I've been constrained to look on her 
Whom I so long refrained to look upon 
To look on her ! and then the fixed resolve 
Never again to lose her from my sight! 
What is resolve, if barren of result? 

258 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

And I have only suffered passively. 
To see her, and to feel myself inwove 
In all her being, was a thing of course. 
To live apart from her's unthinkable; 
'Twould be my death, and wheresoe'er we go 
After we die, e'en there 'twould be my death. 
Is this then love? and does a Templar love? 
A Christian love a Jewish maid in sooth? 
What doth it matter? in the Promised Land, 
Land therefore ever to be praised by me, 1 
I've laid aside full many a prejudice. 
What of my Order? Nay, as Templar I 
Am dead was from that moment dead to it 
Which made me prisoner to Saladin. 
This very head which Saladin hath spared, 
Is it the self-same head I used to wear? 
No, 'tis a new one, which knows nought of all 
That once was babbled to my former one, 
And bound me once ; and 'tis a better one, 
More fitted for my father's native skies;" 
Ay, that I feel now only I begin 
To think as once my father must have thought, 
Unless they've told me fables touching him 
Fables perhaps, yet credible enough, 
Which ne'er appeared more credible to me 
Than now, when I would seem to run the risk 
Of stumbling where he fell ; and if he fell, 
Better to fall with men than stand with boys. 
His own example guarantees to me 
His approbation ; and what living man's 

^ee Note 32. ! See Note 33. 

Sc. ix. NATHAN THE WISE 259 

Concerns me else ? What, Nathan's ? Nay, from 


I well may reckon on encouragement, 
Not cold approval only. What a Jew! 
Who yet affects to be no more than Jew. 
He comes, in haste, and glows with radiant joy; 
Who e'er came otherwise from Saladin? 
Ho! Nathan, ho! 



Ha! is it you, sir knight? 


You've tarried with the Sultan very long. 


Nay, not so very long; in going there 
I was delayed. Ah, truly, Curd, the man 
Equals his reputation ; nay, his fame 
Is but the pale reflexion of himself. 
But first and foremost let me say at once 
The Sultan wills 


Wills what? 


To speak with you; 
Wills that you go to him without delay ; 

260 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 

First come with me a moment to my house, 
Where I have somewhat to arrange for him ; 
And then to Saladin. 


Nathan, your house 
I ne'er again will enter till 


What's this? 

So you've been there already; ay, and seen 
And spoken to her. Well, come, tell me all ; 
How like you Recha? 


More than words could say. 
But see her again, nay, that I'll never do ; 
Never, unless you promise on the spot 
That I, may ever ever look on her. 


How mean you, then, that I interpret this? 

TEMPLAR (falling on NATHAN'S neck). 
My father! 


What is this, young man ? 

TEMPLAR (quitting his embrace). 

Not son? 
I do entreat you, Nathan. 

Sc. ix. NATHAN THE WISE 261 


Dear young man! 


Not son? Oh, Nathan, I conjure you now 
By holy Nature's strongest, earliest ties 
Respect not later shackles more than these, 
Let it content you here to be a man; 
Thrust me not from you. 


Dearest friend 1 


And son? 

Not son? Not even now not now, 
When gratitude hath built the bridge for love 
Unto your daughter's heart. Not even now, 
When the two passions waited but your nod 
To melt in one? 1 What, Nathan, silent still? 


Young Templar, you are too precipitate. 1 


How can it be that I surprise you now 
With your own thought ? or haply on my lips 
You recognize it not precipitate! 


But, Templar, this before I even know 

^ee Note 34. 'See Note 35. 


Which branch of Stauffens you're descended 


What say you? At a moment such as this, 
Is't possible your breast is stirred by nought 
But idle curiosity? 


Nay, hear 

In former days I knew a Stauffen well 
Whose name was Conrad. 


Well, what if my sire 
Bore just that very name? 


Was such the fact ? 


And I'm myself called after him, for Curd 
And Conrad are the same. 


My Conrad, then, 

Was not your father; for my Conrad was, 
Like you, a Templar, and was never wived. 


Oh, for all that 


What mean you? 



He might well 
Have been my father still. 


Nay, now you jest, 


And you in turn are too punctilious; 
A fig for sneers at bastards and the like; 
The stock, I trow, is not to be despised ; l 
But spare me from my proofs of pedigree, 
And I on my part will leave yours alone; 
Not that I had the shadow of a doubt 
Of your ancestral tree nay, God forbid! 
For doubtless you could tell it leaf by leaf 
Right up to Abraham, and from that point 
I know it and could swear to it myself. 


Now you grow bitter do I merit this? 
Have I as yet refused you anything? 
I merely shrank from granting what you sought 
At your first word no more. 


No more than that? 
Oh then, forgive me. 


Well then, come with me. 
'See Note 36. 

264 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


Whither? into your house? Oh no, not that; 

I fear another fire I'll wait you here. 

If I'm to see her any more, 'twill be 

That I may see here whensoe'er I please ; 

If not, why then I have already seen 

Far too much of her. 


Let me now despatch. 

(He goes.) 

SCENE X. The TEMPLAR, and presently DAYA. 

TEMPLAR (as yet alone). 
Ay, truly, far too much. The brain of man 
Grasps such a world of thought, and yet full oft 
A trifle fills it to the bursting point, 
No matter what the thing with which it teems. 
Yet patience ! and the spirit quickly works 
The seething stuff into coherent thought, 
Clears all within, and order comes again. 
Do I then love and loved I ne'er before, 
Or was the feeling which I took for love 
Not love at all ; and is true love indeed 
Only what now I feel? 

DAYA (approaching stealthily from one side). 

Sir knight, sir knight! 



Who calls? ha! Daya, you? 


I've just contrived 

To slip past Nathan as I came along, 
But he might see us where we stand, so come, 
Come nearer to me here behind this tree. 


What is it now, and why this mystery? 


Ay, 'tis about a secret that I come; 
A double one indeed one known to me, 
And one to you, sir knight, let us exchange, 
If you will tell me yours I'll tell you mine. 


With pleasure, if you'll only kindly say 
What you regard as mine ; but that, I trow, 
Will soon appear from yours; so now begin. 


What, / begin? No, no, sir knight, not so; 

You must do that I'll follow be assured 

My secret cannot profit you unless 

I first know yours ; so quickly out with it, 

For if I chance to worm it out myself, 

Then you'll have told me nothing, and then 

Remains with me, and you'll have lost your own ; 


And yet, poor knight, 'twere strange if any man 
Could hope to hide a secret such as that 
From any woman's eyes. 


Though he himself 
Might be unconscious of it? 


Even so; 

And therefore I must be so much your friend 
As now to tell you what your secret is. 
But first explain why you so suddenly 
Broke off our talk, and left us planted there, 
And why you go not now to Nathan's house. 
Has Recha wrought so little on your heart, 
Or haply has she wrought on it too much? 
Your bearing teaches me to understand 
The frantic flutterings of the hapless bird 
Limed to the twig come, come, confess at once 
You love her love her e'en to madness then 
I'll tell you something. 


Madness? of a truth, 
You're right enough in that. 


Admit the love, 
And I'll condone the madness. 



Daya, sure 

The thing's absurd upon its very face; 
A Templar dote upon a Jewish maid! 


'Twould seem in sooth a somewhat senseless 


And yet at times a certain thing may have 
More sense than we suppose nor would it be 
So unexampled if our Saviour 
Drew us to Him by paths the worldly wise 
Spontaneously were little like to tread. 


A solemn thought! (Aside.) If I but substitute 
For Saviour, Providence, she's right enough * 
You make me, Daya, more inquisitive 
Than is my wont. 


But, oh, this is the land 
Of miracles' 


Well, of the marvellous; 
Can it be otherwise, since all the world 
Flocks here together. Well then, Daya dear, 
Take as confessed the thing you seek to know 
I love her love her and I cannot think 
How I could live without her. 

*See Note 37. 'See Note 38. 

268 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


Is it sure? 
Then swear to me, sir knight, to make her 

yours ; 

Ay, swear to me that you will rescue her 
Both here in time and in eternity. 


But how? how can I? can I swear to do 
What is not in my power? 


Tis in your power; 
I'll bring it now with but a single word 
Within your power. 


I suppose you mean 
Her falher now is Willing to consent. 

Father, forsooth! her father must consent. 


But, Daya dear, what mean you by that must? 
He has not surely fallen among thieves ; 
I see no must about it. 


Then he must 

Make up his mind to will it; and he must 
Gladly do so at last. 



What must, and will! 
What if I tell you I've already sought, 
And sought in vain, to touch that chord in him ? 


What, and he fell not in accord with you? 


He broke into a most discordant note, 
Which jarred me sorely. 


What is this you say? 
Can it be possible you let him see 
The faintest shadow of a wish of yours 
For Recha, and he didn't jump for joy, 
But frostily drew back, and coldly spoke 
Of difficulties? 


Ay, it came to that. 


Then I'll not hesitate a moment more. 

(She pauses.) 


And yet you're surely hesitating still. 


The man in all things else is, oh, so good, 
And I have ever owed so much to him; 


But that he should refuse consent! God knows 
My very heart could bleed to force his hand. 


I pray you, Daya, clear me in a word 
Of all these doubts; or if you are yourself 
Still doubtful whether that you now would say 
Be right or wrong, shameful or laudable, 
Then hold your peace, and I will e'en forget 
That you had aught to hide. 


That spurs me on 

Instead of curbing me. So know, sir knight, 
Recha's no Jewess she's a Christian maid ! 

TEMPLAR (with cold sarcasm) . 

I wish you joy on safe delivery! 

The pangs of labor must have racked you sore; 

Go on with pious zeal to people heaven, 

If you are powerless to people earth. 


' Doth my announcement merit such a gibe ; 
And can a Christian, a Templar too, 
And one who loves her, feel so little joy 
To know that Recha is a Christian? 


Ay, and especially the precious fact 
That she's a Christian of your handiwork. 



Ha! is it thus you understand me, sir? 
Oh no, not so I fain would see the one 
Who could in truth convert her; 'tis her lot 
Long to have been a Christian in form, 
Though hindered from becoming one in fact. 


Explain, or go. 


She was a Christian child, 
Of Christian parents born, and is baptised. 

TEMPLAR (eagerly). 
And Nathan? 


Nathan? she's no child of his. 


What! Nathan not her father? Know you 

What now you say? 


I know it is the truth 

A truth which oft has caused me bitter tears; 
He's not her father. 


Only brought her up, 
And represented her to be his child; 
Reared for himself the Christian child as Jew? 

272 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iii. 


'Tis sure he did so. 


And she never knew 

What she was born has never learnt from him 
That she was born a Christian, not a Jew? 




Not only did he rear the child 
In this belief, but left the maiden too 
To grow in this delusion? 


Ay, alas! 


What! Nathan could do this ! Nathan the Wise, 
Nathan the Good, could e'er allow himself 
To stifle holy Nature's voice like this! 
Thus to misguide the promptings of a heart 
Which, left unto itself, had found a bent 
Far different! Oh, Daya, what you now 
Have trusted to me is a thing of weight. 
And may have weighty consequences too, 
I am amazed, and know not for the nonce 
What is my duty give me time to think 
Go now he's like to pass this way again, 
And might surprise us here. 



Nay, God forbid! 


I'm quite unable to accost him now ; 

If you should meet him, only say from me 

That we shall meet at Saladin's anon. 


Let no reproach of him escape your lips. 
This secret must at present be reserved 
To lend the final impulse to our scheme, 
And, touching Recha, to remove your doubts. 
But when you take her to your western home, 
Leave me not here. 


We'll think of it now go. 

274 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


SCENE I. The cloister-alleys of the Convent. 
The LAY BROTHER, and presently the TEMPLAR. 

LAY BROTHER (to himself). 

Ay, ay, the Patriarch is doubtless right, 

And yet the mission he encharged to me 

Hath prospered scurvily. Why must he still 

Commit such matters into hands like mine? 

I love not to be sly, to cozen folk, 

And poke my nose in other men's concerns ; 

I do not wish my hand in every pie. 

Did I, forsooth, withdraw me from the world, 

Touching my own affairs, but to become 

Entangled more than ever with the world 

For other men? 

TEMPLAR (approaching in haste). 

Good brother, here you are! 
I've long been seeking you. 


What, seeking me? 


Is't possible you have forgotten me? 



Oh, no; I only thought it was not like 
That I should ever see your face again; 
And, sure, I hoped to God I never should; 
He only knows how odious in my eyes 
Was the proposal I was bound to make 
To such a youth as you. God only knows 
Whether I wished you'd lend a willing ear 
Without a moment's hesitation, that 
Which would have been so shameful in a knight. 
Yet here you are ! has then the thought revived, 
And does it work upon you after all? 


Know you for what I've come? I scarce myself 
Can tell you that. 


Belike you've thought it o'er; 
And now you think the Patriarch's not far wrong 
In holding gold and credit may be won 
Through his proposal ; that a foe's a foe 
Were he our guardian-angel seven times told, 
All this you've pondered over carefully, 
And come to offer him your arm. Oh, God! 


My dear good man, pray have an easy mind, 
I am not come for this, and not for this 
Would I now see the Patriarch; on the point 
Of which you speak, my mind is still unchanged, 
Nor would I for the wealth of all the world 

276 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

Forfeit the good opinion I have won 
From such an upright pious man as you. 
I've only come to sound the Patriarch 
About a certain point. 

LAY BROTHER (looking timidly around him). 

What, you consult 
The Patriarch? a knight consult a priest? 


Ay, for the point's a somewhat priestly one. 


And yet a priest would ne'er consult a knight, 
E'en on the knightliest point. 


Because your priest 
^ Is privileged to err a privilege 
For which we knights by no means envy them. 
I own that if I only had to act 
For my own self, and were responsible 
Unto myself alone, in such a case 
I'd snap my fingers at your Patriarch. 
But certain things I liefer would do ill 
According to another's will, than well 
According to my own. And yet, I see 
Religion's self is but another name 
For party zeal, and e'en the man who strives 
To bring an open mind to any theme, 
Still, without knowing it himself, upholds 


The standard only of his own belief, 
Blindly maintaining that it must be right. * 


I'd rather not discuss a point like this, 
I scarcely understand the drift of it. 

TEMPLAR (aside). 

Let me consider what my object is, 
Advice, or preachment? simple common sense, 
Or priestly dogma? 

(To the LAY BROTHER.) 

Thanks, good brother, thanks 
For this good hint ; a fig for Patriarchs ! 
Be you my Patriarch ; 'tis the Christian ' 
Within the Patriarch I would now consult, 
More than the Patriarch whom chance hath 

Within the Christian. The case is this 


Oh sir, proceed no more, proceed no more; 
You have misjudged me. He who knows too 


Hath many cares, and I have vowed myself 
To one alone. Ha! this is fortunate, 
See, by a happy chance he comes himself; 1 
Stay here, he hath already noted you. 

*See Note 39. 

278 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

SCENE II. THE PATRIARCH, advancing with priestly 
pomp along the cloisters, and the Preceding. 


1 I'd liefer shun him he were not my man ; 
A burly, ruddy, smiling prelate, sure; 
And in such pomp! 


I wish you saw him, sir, 
What time he comes from court just now he 

But from a sick man's couch. 


How Saladin 
Must then be cast into the shade! 

PATRIARCH (as he approaches, to the LAY BROTHER). 

Ho, there! 
That surely is the Templar what's his will ? 


I know not. 

PATRIARCH (approaching the TEMPLAR, while his train 
withdraw to the background, accompanied by the 

How, sir knight, I'm wondrous glad 
To see so brave a youth you are indeed 
So very young; something, by Heaven's help, 
May come of you. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 279 


Scarce, venerable sir, 
More than has come of me already nay, 
More likely less. 


I would at least desire 
That such a pious knight may flourish long 
For our dear Christendom, and for the weal 
And glory of the sacred cause of God ; 
Nor will this fail if with due modesty 
Your youthful valor heed the ripe advice 
Of prudent age. Say in what special thing 
I now can serve you. 


With the very thing 
In which my youth is lacking with advice. 


Gladly but counsel must be followed, sir. 


Not blindly. 


Who said blindly? of a truth 
No man should e'er omit to exercise 
The reason which was given him by his God, 
Where it is adequate but is it so 
In every case? oh, no for instance, now, 
When God, through one of His own messengers, 
That is, through any servant of His word, 

280 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

Graciously designs to indicate a means 
Whereby we may in any special way 
Promote the weal of Christendom entire, 
And on His holy Church, in such a case, 
Who would presume by reason's puny light 
To cavil at the absolute will of Him 
Who's reason's author? who would dare to 


The eternal laws of Heaven's majesty 
By paltry canons of punctilio? 1 
Enough of this now name the matter, sir, 
As touching which you presently apply 
For counsel at my hands. 


Most reverend sir, 

Suppose a Jew who had an only child, 
And that, a girl, whom he with tender care 
Brought up in all good ways, and whom he loved 
More than himself ; and she upon her part 
Returned his care with most devoted love. 
Well now, suppose 'twas told to one of us 
This maid was not the daughter of the Jew; 
That he had picked her up in infancy, 
Bought her or stolen her or what you will ; 
And that, she was in fact a Christian child, 
Duly baptised; and that the Jew thought fit 
To rear her as a Jewess, and gave out 
She was a Jewess, and his daughter too. 
Say, reverend father, in a case like this 
What should be done? 

'See Note 40. 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 281 


I'm horrified! but first 

Tell me, young sir, whether the case you've put 
Is actual fact, or mere hypothesis; 
Whether you've but imagined such a thing, 
Or whether it has really occurred, 
And still continues. 


Nay, I should have thought 
That, merely to pronounce on such a case, 
It mattered not unto your Reverence 
Whether 'twas fact or fancy. 


Mattered not! 

See how o'erweening human reason's prone 
To err in ghostly things! it matters much; 
For if the case you've put be nothing more 
Than some creation of your sportive wit, 
It merits not a moment's serious thought, 
And I'd refer you to the theatre 1 
Where points like this are argued pro and 
With no small pleasure of the auditors. 
But if you've not been merely tickling me 
With some dramatic quibble if the case 
Be sober fact if such a thing as this 
Has truly happened in our diocese, 
And in our well-beloved Jerusalem, 
Then, of a truth, sir knight ay, then 

'See Note 41. 

282 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


What then? 


Then instantly the Jew must undergo 
The utmost rigor of the penalties 
Which Papal and imperial law alike 
Prescribe for such a monstrous deed as this, 
' For such a scandalous outrage. 


Is it so? 


And know that the aforesaid laws prescribe 
Unto the Jew who ventures to seduce 
A Christian to apostasy the stake 
' The faggot 




And how much more the Jew 
Who forcibly hath torn a Christian child 
From its baptismal bonds for is not all, 
All that is done to children merely force? 
Except, I scarce need say, whate'er the Church 
Does unto children. 


But suppose the child, 
But for the kindly pity of the Jew, 
Haply had perished in the direst want? 



f It matters not the Jew must still be burnt; 
Better she perished here in direst want 
Than thus be rescued for eternal woe. 
Besides, what business had the Jew, forsooth, 
Thus to anticipate the hand of God? 
Without him God can rescue whom He will. 


Ay, and in spite of him can save a soul. 


''It matters not the Jew must surely burn. 


This grieves me much; the more so since 'tis 


He has not actually reared the girl 
In his own faith ; but in no faith at all, 
And taught her neither more nor less of God 
Than simple reason needs. 


It matters not; 

f The Jew must burn on this account alone 
Well doth he merit burning three times o'er. 
What ! let a child grow up an infidel ! 
Utterly fail to train an infant's mind 
In the great obligation to believe! 
That is too bad I wonder much, sir knight, 
That you yourself 

284 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Most reverend sir, the rest, 
Please God, I'll tell you in confessional. 


How, sir! not straightway tell me all the tale? 
Not even name to me the rascal Jew, 
Or hale him here? Oh, then, I know my course, 
I'll hie me on the spot to Saladin; 
In virtue of the pact to which he's sworn 
He's bound to shield us in the exercise 
Of all the spiritual rights and points of faith 
Which appertain to our most holy creed; 
Thank God, we still have the original 
Vouched by his hand and seal ay, that we hold. 
'Twill be an easy task to make him see 
How baneful even for the State it were 
For men to have no faith all social ties 
Would tie disorganised and rent in twain 
If men believed in nothing out upon 
Impiety like this ! 


Tis pity, sir, 

Scant leisure will not suffer me to hear 
Your goodly preachment out, for I am called 
To Saladin. 


Is't possible? well then 


I'll e'en prepare him for your visit, sir, 
Provided that your Reverence approve. 

Sc. iii. NATHAN THE WISE 285 


Oh, oh, I know that you've found favor, sir, 
With Saladin. I only trust you'll put 
The best construction on me at the court ; 
' My only motive is my zeal for God; 
Where I exceed, I do it for His sake. 
I pray you, sir, to weigh this matter well; 
And sure, sir knight, I may as well suppose 
That what you said just now about the Jew 
Was a mere theoretic problem. 


Yes. (He goes.) 


But one I now will do my best to solve, 
This well may prove to be another job 
For brother Bonafides. 

(To the LAY BROTHER.) 

Come, my son. 

SCENE III. A Chamber in the Palace of the Sultan. 
A band of slaves bearing numerous bags of gold, 
and piling them on the floor. 

SALADIN, and presently SITTAH. 

SALADIN (surveying the bags}. 
Well, of a truth there seems no end to this ; 
Doth much o' the stuff remain? 

286 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


As much again I 

Then bear to Sittah all the rest of It. 
Where is Al Hafi ? he shall forthwith take 
All this into his charge or, better still, 
Shall I not straightway send it to my sire? 
Here 'twill run through my fingers. Yet, in 


A man grows hard at last, and now, methinks, 
'Twill cost some skill to wheedle much from me. 
Until our Egypt moneys come to hand 
E'en hapless Poverty will have to shift 
As best it may. I only hope we still 
May meet the charges at the Sepulchre, 1 
Nor have to send these Christian pilgrims hence 
With empty hands and then 


And I would ask, 
Whatever shall I do with all that gold? 


First pay yourself whatever is your due, 
And hoard the rest, if any still remain. 

Has Nathan not yet brought the Templar here? 


No, but he seeks him everywhere. 
'See Note 42. 

Sc. iii. NATHAN THE WISE 287 


Well, see: 

As I was turning my old trinkets o'er, 
See what I found among them. 

(She shows him a miniature portrait.) 


Assad ha ! 

Tis he 'tis he or rather once was he. 
Ah, gallant boy, too early snatched away, 
By thy dear side what was the deed of arms 
I had not blithely ventured to achieve! 
Leave me the portrait, Sittah, leave it here; 
Ay, I remember it, I know it well; 
He gave it to your elder sister Lilla 
On that sad morning when he was so loth 
To let him leave her arms. It was the last 
On which he e'er rode forth alas, alas, 
I suffered him to go, and all alone! 
Our Lilla died of grief, and ne'er forgave 
That I had let him go so all alone. 
He ne'er returned! 


Alack, poor Assad! 



One day we all shall go. and ne'er return. 
Besides who knows? it is not death alone 
That mars the promise of a youth like him; 

288 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

No, he hath other foes, to whom full oft 

The strongest like the weakest must succumb. 

Well, be it as it may, I must compare 

This portrait with the Templar. I would see 

If fancy hath befooled me. 


Tis for this 

That I have brought it; meanwhile, give it me; 
I'll tell you whether it resembles him; 
A woman's eye best judges things like this. 

SALADIN (to an usher, who enters). 
Who's there? the Templar, say you? bid him 


Not to disturb you, or confuse the knight 
With curious glances, let me draw aside. 
(She seats herself apart on a divan, and lets 
her veil fall.) 

Ay, so 'tis well (to himself). And now, to 

hear his voice! 

I wonder how 'twill sound my Assad's tones 
Still slumber somewhere deep within my soul. 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 289 


Sultan, 'tis I, your captive. 


Captive? how? 

Unto the man to whom I granted life 
Should I not also grant his liberty? 


What course behooves you it behooves not me 
Now to pronounce, but first to learn from you. 
Yet, Sultan, surely it would ill beseem 
Either my calling or my character 
To say I owe you any burning thanks 
For my mere life in any case 'tis still 
At your disposal. 


Only use it not 

Against me nay, a pair of hands the more 
I'm free to grant unto my enemy, 
But not to grant him such a heart the more ; 
Oh no, not that. I find thee, gallant youth, 
All that I pictured thee thou art indeed 
My Assad, soul and body. I might ask 
Where hast thou hidden from me all these years ; 
In what dim grotto hast thou slept till now ; 
What land of Jinns, what kind Divinity, 
Hath thus preserved thy blooming youth so 
fresh ? 

290 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

I might remind thee of the deeds we did 

In other days nay, I might chide thee now 

For having kept one secret from my ken; 

For hiding an adventure such as this; 

Ay, I could do it, if I saw but thee, 

And not myself as well. Now, be it so; 

Of this sweet fantasy this much at least 

Is solid fact, that in my autumn years 

An Assad blooms for me again. Say, knight, 

Art thou content with this? 


Whate'er may hap 

To me from thee no matter what it be 
My heart accepts with joy. 


That let us now 

Prove on the instant. Wilt thou stay with me? 
Christian or Mussulman, it matters not, 
In the white mantle, or the Moslem robe, 1 
Turbaned, or with thy beaver as thou wilt, 
To me 'tis all the same, I ne'er have claimed 
That the same bark should grow on every tree. 


Else hardly had'st thou been the man thou art, 
The hero who belike had liefer been 
A delver in the garden of the Lord.* 

'See Note 43. "See Note 44. 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 291 


Nay, if them think'st no worse of me than this, 
E'en now we're half agreed. 


We're wholly so. 

SALADIN (offering him his hand). 
Then 'tis a bargain! 

TEMPLAR (grasping it). 

Ay, and with this hand 
Receive far more than thou could'st e'er have 


By force from me; henceforth I'm all thine 


'Tis too much gain for any single day * 
But came he not with you? 





TEMPLAR (coldly). 

I came alone. 


Oh, what a deed was yours! 
And what shrewd luck it was that such a deed 
Should work the happiness of such a man. 

'See Note 45. 

292 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 




So cold! fie, fie, young man. When God 
Does good through us, we should not be so cold ; 
Not e'en from modesty itself should wish 
To seem so cold. 


Tis strange that in the world 
Each single thing should have so many sides, 
Of which full oft it cannot be conceived 
How they may fit together. 


Ever cling 

To that which is the best, and thank your God ; 
He knows how they may fit together. Still, 
If you must be so scrupulous, young man, 
Then I must be upon my guard with you; 
I, too, unfortunately am a thing 
Of many sides, and some of them, perchance, 
May seem to you to fit not all too well. 


I smart at the rebuke, because in truth 
Suspicion's not a common fault with me. 


Then say of whom you entertain it now; 
'T would seem 'tis Nathan. Is it possible? 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 293 

You suspect Nathan! Speak, explain yourself; 
Give me this first proof of your confidence. 


I've nought 'gainst Nathan no, I'm only vexed 
With my own self. 

And wherefore so ? 


To think 

That in my waking moments I could dream 
A Jew could e'er unlearn to be a Jew. 


What mean you now? Out with this waking 
dream ! 


Sultan, you know of Nathan's daughter. Well, 
That which I did for her I merely did 
Because I did it it was chance alone. 
Too proud to reap a crop of gratitude 
Where I had never sown, from day to day 
I scorned to look upon the girl again. 
Her father then was absent he returns; 
He hears the tale, and straightway seeks me 

Loads me with thanks declares he hopes his 


Has won my favor; talks of prospects, prates 
Of joyous days that possibly may come. 

294 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

Enough I let myself be thus cajoled. 

I go with him I see the maid, and find 

Oh such a maid. Ah! Sultan, I must blush! 


What! must you blush because a Jewish maid 
Hath touched your heart? nay, never tell me 


I blush to think that my impulsive heart, 
Moved by the kindly prattle of the Jew, 
Struggled so little against such a love; 
Once more I madly sprang into the flames; 
For now I sued and now I was disdained! 

Disdained ! 


The cautious sire did not indeed 
Flatly "reject me but the cautious sire 
Must make inquiries first must think it o'er. 
He thought perhaps that I had done the same, 
Made due inquiry, weighed the pros and cons, 
What time his daughter shrieked amid the 

flames ? 

By Heaven! 'tis verily a splendid thing 
To be so wise and circumspect! 


Come, come, 

Make some allowance for an aged man 
And then, how long do you suppose his doubts 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 295 

Are like to last? or think you he'll insist 
That you must first become a Jew yourself? 


Who knows? 


Why, he who knows what Nathan is. 


The superstitions of our early years, 
E'en when we know them to be nothing more, 
Lose not for that their hold upon our hearts ; 
Not all are free who ridicule their chains. 

Ripely remarked but Nathan's not like that. 


The worst of superstitions is to deem 
Our special chains the most endurable 

Perhaps but, Nathan 


And to these alone 
To trust purblind humanity until 
Its eye can bear the brilliant noon of truth. 


That well may be, perhaps, but Nathan's case 
Is no such weakness. 

296 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


So I thought myself, 
But how if this same paragon of men 
Should happen to be such a downright Jew 
That he has sought to seize on Christian babes 
That he might bring them up as Jews how 


But who says that of him? 


The girl herself 

With whom he lures me on with hope of whom 
He fain would seem to pay me for a deed 
He would not have it said I did for nought 
This very girl is not his child. She is 
A kidnapped Christian waif. 


Whom ne'ertheless 
He now will not consent to give to you? 

TEMPLAR (with vehemence). 
Whether he will or no, he's now found out; 
The tolerant prater is unmasked at last; 
I'll find the means to set the hounds on him, 
This Jewish wolf in philosophic fleece, 
Who'll rend his hide! 

SALADIN (with severity). 

Come, Christian, be calm! 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 297 


Christian, be calm! when Jew and Mussulman 
May hotly play the Mussulman and Jew, 
Must the poor Christian alone not dare 
To play the Christian? 

SALADIN (with grorving severity). 

Christian, be calm! 
TEMPLAR (more calmly). 
I own I feel the weight of the reproach 
Compressed by Saladin in these two words; 
How would your Assad have comported him 
In such a case? 


No better than yourself; 
With no less vehemence, perhaps but say, 
Who hath already taught you, like himself, 
To sway me with a single word? In sooth, 
If all be true that you have told me now, 
I scarce therein can recognise my Jew. 
Yet he is still my friend, and all my friends 
Must dwell in harmony ; so, be advised ; 
Proceed with caution sacrifice him not 
To the blind fury of your fanatics; 
Breathe not a matter which your pious priests 
Might well compel me to avenge on him; 
Play not the Christian to spite the Jew, 
Or Moslem either. 


Soon it would have been 

298 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

Too late to think of saving him; but now 
I thank the Patriarch's holy thirst for blood, 
Which made me shudder to become his tool. 


How! went you to the Patriarch, forsooth, 
Before you came to me? 


Sultan, I did, 

In the first gust of passion, in the whirl 
Of indecision pardon me. I fear 
You now no longer will discern in me 
A likeness to your Assad. 


Save, indeed 

This very fear itself 1 methinks I know 
The faults from which our very virtues spring; 
Foster the virtues only, then the faults 
With me shall work you little prejudice. 
But leave me now go and seek Nathan out, 
E'en as he sought for you, and bring him here; 
I now must see you reconciled to him. 
And if in very truth you've set your heart 
Upon this maid, be tranquil she is yours. 
And Nathan too must now be made to smart 
For having dared to rear a Christian child 
In total ignorance of swine's flesh go. 

(The Templar withdraws. Sittah quits her 
seat on the divan, and advances.) 
'See Note 46. 



Tis marvellous! 


Well, Sittah, you'll allow 
Our Assad must have been a goodly youth. 


Ay, if he was like this, and if 'twas not 
The Templar's self who for this portrait sat. 
But, Saladin, how could you e'er forget 
To ask him who and what his parents were? 


And in especial who his mother was, 
And if she ever was in Palestine; 
Is that your drift? 

A precious thought of yours 1 


Oh, nought more possible; our Assad was 
So welcome amid handsome Christian dames, 
And such a squire of handsome Christian dames, 
That once, indeed, the rumor went well, well, 
We would not dwell on it enough for me 
I have him once again, and welcome him 
With all his foibles, all the fitful moods 
Of his warm heart. Oh, Nathan must indeed 
Give him the maid what think you? 

300 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Give the maid! 
Say, give her up. 


Just so; what right has he, 
If not her father, to control her lot? 
The man who saved her life by such a deed 
Alone can enter on the rights of him 
Who gave it. 


How then, brother, would it do 
To take the girl at once to be your ward, 
Withdrawing her from hands which have no 

The right to keep her? 

Where's the need for that? 


Well, not exactly need I must confess 
*Tis harmless curiosity alone 
Suggests my counsel there are certain men 
Regarding whom I ever fain would know 
The sort of maiden they can love. 


Well, then, 
Send for her straight. 


Oh, may I, Saladin? 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 301 


Only spare Nathan's feelings by no means 
Must Nathan think that we would tear the girl 
From him by force. 

Oh, never fear. 


I must find out Al Hafi's whereabouts. 

SCENE VI. Hall in NATHAN'S house, looking towards 
the palm trees, as in the opening scene. The 
wares and precious stuffs, lately brought by 
NATHAN, partly unpacked and displayed. NATHAN 
and DAYA contemplating them. 


Oh, all's magnificent ! most rare and choice ; 
All such as you alone could wish to give. 
Whence comes this silver stuff with sprays of 


And what might be its price? Oh, that I call 
A bridal dress indeed ! no queen could wish 
A braver one. 


Why just a bridal dress? 

302 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Well now, you haply did not think of that 
What time you bought it; but in very truth 
That and no other must it be it looks 
Expressly made for that the snow-white ground, 
Emblem of purity the golden threads, 
Which everywhere run snaking through the stuff, 
Symbol of riches look you, 'tis divine! 


What means this wealth of wit? whose bridal 


Would you describe with this symbolic lore; 
Are you the bride perhaps? 


Who? I? 


Who, then? 


I, gracious heavens! I! 


Who is she, then? 

Whose bridal garment are you prating of ? 
All that you see is yours, and yours alone. 


Mine! meant for me! not meant for Recha, 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE 303 


That which I brought for Recha still lies packed 
Within another bale come, take the stuff; 
Off with your trumpery. 


No, tempter, no; 

If they comprised the wealth of all the world 
I would not touch them till you swear to me 
To use this single opportunity, 
The like of which God ne'er may send again. 


Use what? and opportunity for what? 


Oh, look not so unconscious. In a word, 
The Templar loves our Recha make her his. 
Thus your transgression will be closed at last, 
That sin which I no longer can conceal; 
Thus will she come once more 'mid Christian 


Once more be what she is, or be once more 
That which she was ; then, too, we could not say 
That all your many kindly acts to us, 
Which we can ne'er sufficiently requite, 
Were nought but coals of fire upon your head. 


Harping once more upon your ancient harp! 
Though haply fitted with an extra string, 
Not well attuned, or like to hold. 

304 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


How so? 


The Templar suits me, and should have my 


Sooner than e'er another in the world, 
Were it not well, have patience, I entreat. 


Patience, forsooth ! why patience, I declare, 
Is your old harp on which you ever strum. 


I ask if only for a few days more. 

But see! who's this who comes? a monk, me- 

thinks ; 
Go, ask him what he wants. 



What can he want? 
(She goes towards the Monk.) 


Well, give him alms, and that before he asks. 

(To himself.) 

Would I could sound this Templar's history, 
Without betraying what my object is! 
For if I tell him this, and if it prove 
That my surmise is groundless, then indeed 
I shall have risked a father's rights in vain. 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 305 

DAYA (returning}. 
The monk would speak with you. 


Then bid him come; 
And you may leave me now. 


NATHAN (still to himself). 
Oh, I would fain be Recha's father still ! 
And can I not be that, e'en though I cease 
To bear the name ? With her, in any case, 
With her I must for ever bear the name, 
If she but know how dear it is to me. 

(To the LAY BROTHER.) 
Good brother, say what I can do for you. 


Not much but oh, good Nathan, I rejoice 
To see you still in health. 


You know me, then? 


Ay, that I do who knows you not? your 


Hath been impressed on many a needy palm, 
And mine still bears its stamp these many years. 

306 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

NATHAN (feeling in his purse}. 
Well, brother, let me freshen it a bit. 


Thanks; but 'twere robbery of poorer men; 
I'll nought of you but rather, by your leave, 
I now would freshen up my name a bit 
Within your mind, since I too can lay claim 
Once to have placed within your hand a thing 
Of no mean worth. 


Forgive me I must blush 
Name it, and, to atone my heedlessness, 
Take from me now its value seven times told. 


Before all else, first hear how I myself 
Only this* very day was put in mind 
Of that I pledged with you. 


You pledged with me! 


Not long ago I filled a hermit's cell 
On Quarantana, nigh to Jericho, 1 
When suddenly a band of Arab thieves 
Pulled down my little chapel, razed my cell, 
And dragged me off with them. By luck I fled, 
And made my way unto the patriarch here 

'See Note 47. 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 307 

To crave of him some other little spot 
Where I in solitude might serve my God 
Until a peaceful death might end my days. 


Brother, I burn to know the rest be brief ; 
What was the pledge the pledge you left with 


Anon, good Nathan; well, the Patriarch 
Promised that I should have a hermit's cell 
On Tabor, on the earliest vacancy; 
Meanwhile his orders were that I should wait 
As a lay-brother in the convent here; 
And here I am, good Nathan; and I long 
A hundred times for Tabor every day, 
Because the Patriarch ever foists on me 
All sorts of tasks from which my soul recoils; 
Such, for example 


Nay, proceed, I pray. 


I'm coming to it now. Some one, it seems, 
This day has whispered in the Patriarch's ear 
That somewhere here there dwells a certain Jew 
Who's bringing up a certain Christian child 
As his own daughter 

NATHAN (with alarm}. 


308 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Nay; hear me out. 

Well then, the Patriarch has commissioned me 
Forthwith, if possible, to trace this Jew, 
Since he is vehemently stirred with wrath 
At such an outrage, which appears to him 
The very sin against the Holy Ghost; 
That is to say, the sin which, of all sins, 
Is held by us to be the greatest sin, 
Except that, God be thanked, we scarcely know 
In what it specially consists. But now 
My drowsy conscience suddenly awoke, 
And it occurred to me that I myself 
Not long ago had haply given rise 
To this unpardonable, deadly sin. 
Now tell me whether, eighteen years ago, 
A certain squire confided to your hands 
A tiny maid of but a few weeks old? 


How's this? Well, truly ay, it is the fact. 


Nathan, look well on me. I was the squire ! 


What! You? 


The knight from whom I brought the babe 
Was one Von Filneck, if I do not err; 
Ay, Wolf von Filneck. 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 309 


Yes, that was the name. 


It seems the mother had but lately died ; 
And then the knight had suddenly to flit, 
Methinks to Gaza, where a mite like that 
Could not go with him, so he bade me bear 
The babe to you, and it was at Darun 1 
I gave it to you. 


That is so indeed. 


'Twere little wonder if my memory 
Deceived me after such a lapse of time; 
And then I've served so many valiant knights, 
And this one truly all too short a time; 
Soon after that he fell at Ascalon; 
He was a kindly knight. 


Ay, that he was; 

And one to whom I owed a world of thanks, 
Since more than once he saved me from the 


If so, you must have been the more rejoiced 
To be the guardian of his little girl. 

*See Note 48. 

310 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Ay, you may think it. 


Well, where is she now? 
Surely she hath not died by any chance; 
Oh, say not that she's dead, for, if she lives, 
And no one else be privy to her case, 
All things may yet go well. 


Ha, think you so? 


Now mark me, Nathan, thus I look at things: 

Whene'er I purpose to perform a deed 

Good in itself, but bordering too close 

On what is bad, I ever think it best 

To leave the deed undone; since what is bad 

Is always pretty palpable to us, 

While what is good is seldom quite so plain, 

Now it was natural enough that you, 

To do your best in bringing up the child, 

Should treat her as your daughter. Very well, 

You did the thing in perfect faith and love, 

And is it right that you should smart for this ? 

I ne'er can see the justice of the case; 

I own your conduct had been more discreet 

Had you employed some other hand to rear 

This Christian infant as a Christian; 

But in that case the daughter of your friend 

Had lacked your love; and in their tender years 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 311 

Children need love before all other things, 
Were it no more than some dumb creature's 


Ay, before Christianity itself; 
Trust me, there's ever time enough for that; 
And if the maid but grew before your eyes 
Healthy and good, then in the eyes of God 
She still remained as precious as before. 
And was not Christianity itself 
Built up in Jewry? it hath vexed me oft, 
And cost me many a bitter bitter tear 
That Christians should so utterly forget 
Their own Redeemer was himself a Jew. 


Good brother, you must be my advocate 
When hatred and hypocrisy are roused 
To hunt me down for such an act as mine; 
Ah, such an act! You, brother, you alone 
Shall know the facts ; but they must die with 


I've ne'er been tempted by a vain desire 
To tell them to another man; to you, 
And to your simple piety alone, 
I tell them now, since none but such as you 
Can rightly measure or can comprehend 
What sort of deeds a man who loves his God 
Can bring himself to do. 


You're deeply moved, 
Ay, and your eyes are running o'er with tears 1 

312 NATHAN THE WISE Act iv. 


You brought the infant to me at Darun; 
But then you could not know that, just before, 
The Christians had slaughtered every Jew 
Who dwelt in Gath 1 ay, massacred them all, 
Sparing nor sex nor age nor knew you then 
That my poor wife and seven hopeful sons, 
Whom I had sent for safety, as I thought, 
To a dear brother's house, were burnt alive 
Within its walls. 


Oh, great and righteous God! 


Just as you came I'd lain three days and nights 
In dust and ashes bowed before the Lord; 
I raved I writhed I wrangled with my God; 
I wept, 'I cursed myself and all mankind, 
And swore eternal and undying hate 
To Christendom entire. 


I marvel not. 


But reason gradually came again, 
And said with gentle voice: 'God surely is, 
And such was His inscrutable decree; 
Now practise that which thou hast known so 

*See Note 49. 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 313 

To practise which is surely no more hard 
Than 'tis to grasp it, if thou only wilt ; 
Stand up !' I stood, and called to God : 'I will, 
If Thou but help my will.' You lighted then 
From off vour horse, and handed me the child 
Wrapped in your mantle. What you said to me, 
What I replied, I have forgotten now; 
This much alone I know I took the babe, 
I bore it to my couch I kissed its cheek; 
And then I fell upon my bended knees, 
And, sobbing, cried aloud: 'My God, of seven, 
Here's one restored already!' 


Nathan, sure 

You are a Christian, by Heaven you are, 
None better ever breathed! 


Alack, alack! 

That which makes me a Christian in your eyes 
Makes you a Jew in mine enough, enough; 
Let us no longer but unman ourselves; 
We now must act and though a seven-fold love 
Has knit my heart to this one stranger maid, 
Although the very thought is death to me 
That I may lose once more my seven sons 
In losing her, yet, if it please the Lord 
To claim her at my hands, I must obey. 


Tis even so it was my very wish 

314 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 

To breathe such counsel, but 'tis needless now ; 
Your own good genius hath inspired the thought. 


Ay, but I will not lightly let her go 
To the first casual claimant. 


Surely not 


Who hath not greater rights to her than I 
Must at the least have prior ones. 


He must. 


Derived from nature and from kinship. 



Such is my thought. 


If you will name a man 
Who by relationship can claim the maid, 
As uncle, brother, cousin what you will 
I'll ne'er resist his claim. She's formed to be 
The ornament of any house or creed. 
I would you knew more of your Christian knight, 
And of his race, than I could ever glean. 


Good Nathan, that is hardly to be thought, 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE 315 

For you've already heard I served the knight 
But all too brief a space. 


Then know you not 

At least the stock from which her mother came? 
Methinks she was a Stauffen. 


I think she was. 


And was her brother not 
Conrad von Stauffen, and a Templar Knight? 


Unless I err, he was. But wait a bit, 

I think I still possess a little book 

Of the late knight my master, which I plucked 

From out his bosom, as we buried him 

In front of Ascalon. 


What sort of book? 


A book containing prayers what we call 
A breviary, in fact; and that, methought, 
A Christian man might find a useful thing, 
Though not myself, indeed, since as for me, 
I cannot even read. 

316 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Say on, say on! 


Well, on the fly-leaf of this little book, 
And also at the end, as I've been told, 
There is a record in my master's hand 
Of all his relatives, and of his wife's. 


The very thing! Run, run, and bring the book, 
I'll pay you for it with its weight in gold, 
Besides a thousand thanks Oh, fetch it quick! 


Gladly; but what my master wrote in it 
Is Arabic. 


It matters not quick bring it here. 

(The LAY BROTHER goes.) 
My God ! if I could only keep the maid, 
And win a son-in-law like this to boot! 
'Twere too much luck, I fear. Well, come what 


But now I wonder who it can have been 
Who went and whispered in the Patriarch's ear 
A thing like this. Well, I must not forget 
To find this out. I wonder if it was 
Our precious Daya. 

Sc. viil NATHAN THE WISE -317 


DAYA (in haste and agitation). 
Oh, Nathan, Nathan, only think! 


Think what? 


The poor, dear child was fairly stunned by it; 
They've sent 


The Patriarch? 


No, the Sultan's sister, 
The Princess Sittah 


Not the Patriarch? 


No; Sittah, don't you hear? The Princess 

Hath sent and bade her to be brought to her. 


Hath sent for Recha ! Sittah sent for her ! 
Well, if it's Sittah who has sent for her, 
And not the Patriarch 


Why harp on him? 

318 NATHAN THE WISE Act. iv. 


Then you have had no word from him of late; 
Nor whispered anything into his ear? 


Who? I? To him? 


Where are the messengers'? 


They stand without. 


Well, for precaution's sake 
111 speak with them myself. I only trust 
The Patriarch is not behind it all. (He goes.} 


And I am anxious on another score. 
Ay, sure* a girl that is supposed to be 
The only child of such a wealthy Jew 
Were no bad catch for any Mussulman. 
The Templar's chance is gone, unless indeed 
I venture now upon the second step, 
And tell her plainly what she really is. 
Courage! for this I straightway will employ 
The very first occasion I may find 
To get her by herself ; and that will be 
Now as I go along with her to Court. 
At least a slight preliminary hint 
Can do no harm. Ay, ay, 'tis now or ne'er. 

Act. v. NATHAN THE WISE 319 


SCENE I. A Chamber in the Palace of the Sultan, the 
same wherein the treasure had been piled, as in 
the Third Scene of the Fourth Act. The bags of 
gold still there. 

SALADIN, and presently some of his Mamelukes. 

SALADIN ( entering) . 

The gold still here! and no one seems to know 
Where to find out the Dervish it is like 
He's lighted somewhere at his darling chess, 
Which sometime makes him e'en forget himself, 
Then why not also me patience ! 

(To a Mameluke who enters.) 

What now? 


Sultan, good news at last joy, Sultan, joy! 
The caravan from Cairo hath arrived, 
And safely brought you from the teeming Nile 
Your seven years' tribute. 


Bravo, Ibrahim! 

You are in sooth a harbinger of good; 
Ha! safely come at last! now take my thanks 
For your glad tidings. 

320 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 

MAMELUKE (expectantly, to himself). 

Well, I wish he'd pay. 


What do you wait for ? go. 


What! nothing else 
Unto the welcome messenger? 


What else? 


The harbinger of tidings such as that 
Looks for a courier's largesse otherwise 
I'm like to be the first whom Saladin 
Has e'er fobbed off with empty thanks alone; 
Something to boast of truly! ay, the first, 
The very first with whom he ever played 
The niggard's part. 

SALADIN (pointing to the heaps of gold). 

Well, take a bag from there. 


No, no not now not if you offered me 
The whole of them. 


Would you defy me thus? 
Come, then, take two still obstinate ! He goes, 
Surpassing me in generosity! 
To him it must be harder to refuse 


Than 'tis to me to give. What can it be 
That makes me now, so near my closing scene, 
Suddenly wish to be an altered man? 1 
Should Saladin not die as Saladin, 
Then he should ne'er have lived as Saladin 


Ho, Sultan! 


If you've come to tell the news 


That the Egyptian convoy hath arrived. 


I know't already. 


Then I've come too late! 


Why say too late? You'll take a bag or two 
For your good will. 


Well, two and one make three. 


You reckon nimbly help yourself to three. 


Another messenger comes hard behind; 
That is, if he is able. 

'See Note 50. 

322 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 


Pray explain. 


Well, he most probably has broke his neck; 
For when the three of us were well assured 
The convoy had arrived, we dashed at once 
To bring the news to you the foremost horse 
Stumbled and fell, and so I got the lead, 
And kept it too, until we reached the town, 
Where Ibrahim, sly rogue, had better skill 
Among the alleys. 


Oh, but I'm concerned 
For him who fell ! ride quick and learn his case. 


Ay, that I'll gladly do; and if he lives 
I'll give him half of these three bags of gold. 

(He goes.) 


See, there's a noble fellow if you like! 
Who else can boast of Mamelukes like these? 
And may I not be suffered to suppose 
That my example helped to form them thus? 
Then out upon the thought that at the last 
I should unteach the lessons that I gave! 


Sultan, what ho! 

Sc. ii. NATHAN THE WISE 323 


Are you the one who fell? 


No, Sultan, no ; I come but to announce 
That Emir Mansor, he who brought the gold, 
Has just alighted. 


Bring him quickly here; 
Ha! here he is himself. 



Welcome, brave Emir ! So you're come at last, 
Oh, Mansor, Mansor, I have looked for you 
These many weary days! 


This missive, sire, 

Will tell you of the tumult in Thebais 
Which Abdul Kasim had perforce to quell 
Before we dared to start the caravan; 
But since we started I have urged it on 
As much as might be. 


I believe you well. 
And now, good Mansor, if you do not grudge 

324 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 

This added labor, take without delay 
Fresh guards for the protection of the train, 
And hold you ready for a further march, 
Since you must bear the bulk of all this gold 
Unto my father on Mount Lebanon. 


Most gladly, Sultan. 


And look well you take 
Sufficient escort, for on Lebanon 
Things are no longer safe. You've doubtless 


The Templars now are on the move again; 
So be upon your guard. Where halts the train ? 
I fain would see it and myself dispose 
Its due equipment. 

(To a slave.) 

Ho, you fellow there, 
Say to my sister I'll be with her soon. 

SCENE III. The palm grove before NATHAN'S house. 

TEMPLAR (alone). 

I'll ne'er again put foot within his doors ;* 
He's certain presently to show himself. 
Once on a time they yearned to see me come, 

'See Note 51. 

Sc. iii. NATHAN THE WISE 325 

And now 'tis like enough to come to this 
That he will bid me cease to haunt his house. 
Oh, I'm provoked with him yet wherefore so? 
Why all this bitterness against a Jew? 
So far at least he has refused me nought, 
And Saladin himself has now engaged 
To work upon him Is it possible 
The Christian's more inveterate in me 
Than is in him the Jew? ay, who can tell? 
Else why should I so bitterly resent 
The trivial larceny he took such pains 
To practise on the Christians ? And yet 
'Twas no such trivial larceny to take 
A thing like that ! And who can claim her now ? 
She's ne'er the chattel of the nameless hind 
Who cast the shapeless block on life's bleak 


And straightway vanished. Rather is she his, 
The craftsman's who in that poor derelict 
Conceived and fashioned such a peerless thing. 
Ay, Recha's real father is the Jew, 
Spite of the Christian who gendered her; 
The Jew alone. For if she were no more 
Than e'er another comely Christian maid, 
.Without the added charm of all the gifts 
Which only such a Jew could give to her, 
Say, oh my heart, could she have witched me 


Ah no, in sooth ! Her sweetest smile were then 
Nought but a winsome movement of the lips ; 
While that which raised it never could explain 

326 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 

The glamor which it sheds on all her face. 
Oft have I witnessed smiles as sweet as hers 
Lavished on folly, raillery, or jests, 
On fulsome suitors, or on flattering fools, 
And did they ravish me, or make me yearn 
To flutter in their sunshine all my days? 
And yet I harbor wrath against the man 
Whose hand alone hath made her what she isl 
How's this? And have I merited the scorn 
With which I was dismissed by Saladin? 1 
Whether I did or no, 'twas bad enough 
That he should think I did; and oh, how small, 
How despicable too I must have seemed 
In eyes like his and all about a girl ! 
Curd, Curd ! this must not be control thyself. 
And what if Daya merely chose to prate 
Of matters which she ne'er could prove ? But see, 
See where he comes at last and who is yon 
With whom he's plunged in talk? I do believe 
It is my friend the monk ! Why then, for sure, 
He now knows all, and they've betrayed him now 
Unto the Patriarch. Well, here's a coil! 
See what my blundering has brought about. 
To think that one stray spark of passion's fire 
Should set the brain of man in such a blaze ! 
Now must I swift decide upon my course; 
But meanwhile let me wait aside a space, 
Perhaps the monk may leave him presently. 

'See Note 52. 

Sc. iv. NATHAN THE WISE 327 



Once more, good brother, take my heartfelt 


And you the same from me. 


Why thanks from you? 
For my sheer wilfulness to force on you 
That which you did not want ? But you yourself 
Were wilful too. You did not choose to be 
By force made richer than I am myself. 


In any case the book was none of mine; 
It is the daughter's property ; nay, more, 
'Tis all the patrimony that she has, 
Unless I count yourself. God only grant 
You never may have reason to repent 
All that you've done for her. 


Repent, indeed! 
That I can never do be sure of that. 


But for your Templars and your Patriarchs. 


Not any harm that they could do to me 
Could ever make me rue a single act 

328 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 

That I have done and this the least of all. 
And, after all, are you so very sure 
It is a Templar who is hounding on 
This Patriarch of yours? 


I think it must. 

A Templar spoke with him not long ago; 
And all I've heard corroborates the thing. 


And yet at present there is only one 
In all Jerusalem ; and him I know ; 
Nay more, he is a special friend of mine, 
A young, a noble, honorable man. 


Just so the very same but what one is, 
And what the world compels one oft to be, 
Don't always correspond. 


Alas, 'tis true. 

Then be my enemy whoe'er he may, 
E'en let him do his best or do his worst, 
With your book, brother, I defy them all, 
I'm going with it to the Sultan now. 


God prosper you ; and now I'll take my leave. 


And yet you have not even seen her yet ! 


Come soon, come oft. If but the Patriarch 
This day discovers nought! Yet after all 
You now may tell him whatsoe'er you please. 


Not I farewell. 


Well, brother, think of us. 

(LAY BROTHER goes.) 

My God, I now would thank Thee on my knees ! 
To think the tangled skein, whose stubborn knots 
Oft caused me gnawing apprehension, now 
Unravels of itself! Oh, God, what joy 
To think that now I've nothing to conceal, 
And now can walk amid my fellow-men 
As freely as I've done in sight of Thee, 
Who dost not always judge us by our acts, 
Acts, oh, so oftentimes not all our own ! 

SCENE V. NATHAN and the TEMPLAR, who advances 
from a retired spot. 


Hold, Nathan, hold take me along with you. 


What, you, Sir Knight? How is it that you 

To meet me at the Sultan's? 

330 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 


It would seem 
We missed each other be not vexed for that. 


Not I, but Saladin may chafe at it. 


When I came there, you had but just withdrawn. 


So you had speech with him? Then all is well? 


Ay, but he wants to see us face to face 
Together there. 


'Tis all the better come; 
E'en now I was about to go to him. 


I fain would ask you, Nathan, who was he 
Who left you even now. 


How? don't you know? 


It surely was the monk, the worthy soul 
Who acts as lurcher to the Patriarch. 


Maybe at all events the honest man 
Is at the Patriarch's beck. 



Tis no bad thought 
To send Simplicity to clear the way 
For Knavery. 


Ay, if your simpleton 
Be simple only, and not honest too. 


No Patriarch ever trusts an honest fool. 


I'll answer for the monk he's not the man 
Would help the Patriarch to carry out 
A knavish scheme. 


So he gives out at least. 
But has he ne'er said aught to you of me? 


Of you? no, nought of you the worthy man 
Scarce knows your name. 


I hardly think he does. 


Well, of a certain Templar, I confess 
He said to me 


What said he? 

332 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


What he said 
Proves absolutely that he meant not you. 


Who knows? Come, tell me what he said. 


He said 

A certain Templar had preferred a charge 
Against me to that Patriarch of his. 


A charge 'gainst you, forsooth! Well, by his 


That is a fiction. I am not a man 
Who would be likely to disown my acts, 
And what I did, I did ; nor am I one 
Who would maintain that all his acts are right. 
Why should a single error make me blush ? 
And am I not resolved to do my best 
Now to retrieve it; and do I not know 
How far this may be done ? Now, Nathan, hear, 
I'm your lay brother's Templar, sure enough, 
Who laid the charge against you. All the same, 
You know what maddened me against you then, 
What caused my blood to boil in every vein. 
Fool that I was, I needs must throw myself 
Body and soul into your arms. You know 
How you received my suit how cold you were, 
How lukewarm, rather, which is worse than 


Sc. v. NATHAN THE WISE. 333 

How cautiously you strove to stave me off; 
With what irrelevant and air-drawn pleas 
You made believe to answer to my prayer; 
Scarce can I bear to think upon it now 
And yet be calm. Now, Nathan, mark me well, 
While in this ferment, comes me Day a next, 
And slips into my ear her secret news, 
Which seemed to furnish all at once the key 
To your mysterious conduct. 


How was that? 


I'll tell you presently. I then made sure 

You'd ne'er give up to any Christian 

A being whom you once had won like this 

From Christian hands, and so I then resolved 

As briefly and as kindly as I might 

To put you out of pain. 


Your brevity 

Was plain enough, but yet I fail to see 
The kindness of your act. 


I freely own 

I acted madly. You had done no wrong; 
That crack-brained Daya knew not what she 


She owes some grudge to you, and only sought 
By this to plunge you in some evil snare, 

334 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

Yet, for all that, I acted like a fool, 
For ever rashly rushing to extremes, 
Too passive now, now too impetuous; 
I crave your pardon, Nathan. 


It is yours. 


I told the Patriarch, but I named you not ; 

That is a fiction, as I said but now; 

I only put the case in general terms, 

That I might gather what he thought of it; 

That, too, had better have been left undone, 

For even then I knew the Patriarch 

Was but a cogging knave. Then why, you'll 


Why could I not have spoken to yourself ; 
Why make the hapless girl incur the risk 
To lose a father such as you ? Well, well, 
The knavish scheming of the Patriarch, 
Ever consistent in his roguery, 
Suddenly brought me to myself again; 
And even if he knew your name, what then; 
He only could presume to seize the girl 
If she were claimed by no one but yourself ; 
He dare not hale her to a nunnery 
Save from your house then give the maid to 


Give her to me then let the Patriarch come ; 
He'll hardly dare to drag my wife from me ; 
Give her at once, be she your child or not, 

Sc. v. NATHAN THE WISE. 335 

Be she a Jewess or a Christian, 
Or of no creed at all it matters not ; 
I'll never never ask you what she is ; 
To me 'tis all the same. 


Do you suppose 
That I have any need to hide the truth? 


Let that be as it may. 


I've ne'er denied 

To you, or any who could claim to know, 
That she's a Christian, and nought to me 
But my adopted child. Why, then, you'll ask, 
Why have I never said as much to her? 
But that's a point I need not to unfold 
Save unto her. 


Not even unto her 

Need you unfold it let her look on you 
With the same eyes as she has ever done ; 
Spare her the revelation you alone 
Possess her now, and can dispose of her ; 
Then give her to me, Nathan, I entreat; 
'Tis I alone who, for the second time, 
Can save her for you, and who'll do it too. 


It was so once ; but 'tis no longer so ; 
You come too late. 

336 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


How so? oh, how too late? 


Thanks to the Patriarch. 


Thanks to him! for what? 
Was it his purpose e'er to earn our thanks? 
Why thanks to him, forsooth? 


That now we know 

Who are her kindred to whose hands she now 
May safely be surrendered. 


Nay, for that 
Let him be thankful to the Patriarch 

Who has more cause than I P 



Yet at the hands 

Of these her kindred you must seek her now, 
And not at mine. 


Poor Recha! all things seem 
To jump together only to your hurt; 
That which to any other orphan child 
Had been a priceless blessing, is to you 
A sheer calamity. But, Nathan, say, 
Where are these precious new-found kinsfolk? 

'See Note 53. 

Sc. v. NATHAN THE WISE. 337 




And what are they? 


Well, as to what they are, 
A brother in especial has been found, 
To whom you must address your suit for her. 


A brother, say you ? Well, and what is he, 
A soldier or a priest? Oh, tell me quick 
What I may hope from him. 


I rather think 

That he is neither or is both in one 
I scarcely know him yet. 


What more of him ? 


I hear he is an honest man, with whom 
Our Recha will do well. 


A Christian too? 

Nathan, at times you fairly puzzle me; 
Be not offended, but you well may think 
With Christians she must play the Christian, 
And when she shall have played it long enough, 

338 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

She'll end at last by being one in fact ; 
And then the tares will choke the precious wheat 
Sown in her soul by you ; and yet you seem 
Quite unconcerned for that, and calmly say 
She's sure to prosper 'neath her brother's care! 


Well, so I think at least, and so I hope; 
If she should lack for aught beneath his care, 
She'll still have you and me to think of her. 


What can she ever chance to lack with him? 
The loving brother surely will provide 
The darling sister with a goodly store 
Of food and raiment, dainty things, and gauds; 
And what more could she want, unless it be 
A man to wed her? Well, well, even that 
The loving brother in his own good time 
Will surely find her, if he's to be found; 
And then, the better Christian he is, 
The better chance for him. Alack, my friend, 
'Tis sad you've reared an angel such as this 
To be preverted thus by other hands ! 


Why these regrets? Our angel, be assured, 
Will ever prove right worthy of our love. 1 


Speak not thus lightly of my love for her; 
'See Note 54. 

Sc. v. NATHAN THE WISE. 339 

It ne'er can brook partition such as this 
With e'er another no, not e'en in name. 
But tell me, has she any inkling yet 
Of what awaits her? 


Possibly she has; 
But whence the inkling came I cannot tell. 


Nay, nay, this is too much she shall she must 
Learn first from me the tidings of her lot. 
My resolution ne'er to see her more 
Till I could call her mine, now melts away; 
I'll haste me now 


Haste whither? 


Unto her ; 

To see if haply in her maiden soul 
There may be found sufficient man-like stuff 
To make her yet adopt the sole resolve 
That's worthy of her. 


What is that? 


Tis this; 

To snap her fingers at the pair of you; 
You and her brother. 

340 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 




To follow me; 

E'en if in doing so she had to wed 
A Moslem. 


Stay, she is no longer there; 
She's now with Sittah, or with Saladin. 


Since when? and why? 


And if you'd like to meet 
The brother there with them, then come with me. 


The brother? whose? Sittah's, or Recha's, 
which ? 


Possibly both but come, I pray you come. 

(He leads him away.) 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE. 341 

SCENE VI. Sittah's Boudoir. SITTAH and RECHA in 


Oh, what delight you give me, darling child ! 

But be not agitated be not shy; 

Be gay and prattle freely be at ease. 



Not Princess call me Sittah, dear; 
Your friend, your sister, mother what you will. 
I well might be the last, you are so young, 
And yet so wise and good as you are wise; 
You seem to know all things, and to have read 
All that has e'er been writ. 


Who? /indeed! 

You surely mock your little silly friend; 
I scarce can read. 


Nay, that's a little fib. 


Well, I can spell out what my father pens ; 
At least a little but I thought you spoke 
Of real books. 


Yes, dear, I spoke of books. 

342 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


Well, I can scarcely read a book at all. 

What? are you serious? 


Quite my father says 
Frigid book-learning's but a sorry thing, 
Whose lifeless symbols speak not to the heart. 


Ha! saith he so? Methinks he's not far wrong. 
How came you, then, to learn the many things 
You seem to know? 


I learnt them from his lips; 
And I could almost tell you even now 
Where,, how, and why he mostly taught me them. 


Things taught like this dwell longest in the mind, 
For then the whole soul learns. 


And as for books, 
I judge you too have read but few or none. 


How so? I cannot boast me of my lore, 
But state your grounds and boldly come, your 

Sc. vl NATHAN THE WISE. 343 


Because you are so natural, so fresh, 
So free from artifice, so like yourself. 

And what of that? 


My father says that books 
Too seldom leave us so. 


Your father seems 
To be a wondrous man. 


Ay, that he is. 


How close he ever shoots unto the mark I 


He does and then to think 


What ails you, dear? 

To think that I must lose 


My God, you weep I 


That I must lose ay, it must out, or else 

344 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

My heart would burst to think that I must lose 
A father such as that! 

(She falls, sobbing, at the feet of SITTAH.) 


What! lose him! how? 
Be calm you shall not lose him rise, my child. 


Then not in vain you'll have become to me 
A sister and a friend. 


Be sure I'm both. 
But rise, my child, or I must call for help. 

RECHA (controlling herself, and rising). 
Forgive me ! anguish caused me to forget 
With whom I speak oh no, despairing tears 
Are not required to move a Sittah's heart ; 
Calm reason is enough for souls like hers; 
With Sittah reason's cause is sure to win. 

Well, tell your tale. 


My sister and my friend, 
Oh, never never let them force on me 
Another father oh, permit it not! 


What ! force another father upon you ! 
Who can do that, or wish to do it, dear? 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE. 345 


Who ? Why my own good wicked Daya can ; 
Ay, she can wish it and can do it too; 
You know her not at once so good and bad ; 
May God forgive her, and reward her too ; 
She's been so kind to me, and yet she's been 
Oh, so unkind as well! 


Unkind to you? 
Then of a truth there's little good in her. 

Oh yes, there is, and much. 


Who is she, then? 


A Christian, who when I was but a babe 
Was nurse to me, and oh, you cannot think 
How tenderly she filled a mother's place, 
And caused me to forget my orphan state! 
May God requite her ! Yet with all her love, 
She oft has tortured me. 


But how and why? 


The dear good woman, I must tell you plain, 
Is one of those good simple Christian souls 

346 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

Who from sheer love must torture those they 


One of those kindly fanatics who think 
They only know the strait and narrow way, 
The one true way to God. 


Ah, now I see. 


Who feel impelled to force upon that way 
All who may chance to tread another track ; 
And scarce could they do else, for if 'tis true 
That their way only leads to lasting bliss, 
How could they calmly see their friends pursue 
Another path which, as they are convinced, 
Can only lead us to eternal woe? 
Else it were possible to love and hate 
The self-same person at the self-same time. 
No, 'tis not that which now at last has roused 
These loud complaints against her. All her sighs, 
Her warnings, her entreaties, and her threats, 
I could have borne with patience to the end ; 
These only led me ever unto thoughts 
Which were both good and profitable too; 
And it is flattering to us to feel 
That any fellow-creature loves us so 
As to be tortured by the very thought 
Of losing us for all eternity. 

Ay, that is true. 

Sc. vi. NATHAN THE WISE. 347 


But now she's gone too far; 
Nothing can palliate her last offence; 
All patience, all reflection, fail me now; 
Tis past all bearing! 


What was this offence? 


Well, a disclosure she professed to make 
This very day. 


That's strange this very day! 


On our way hither, just as we approached 
A ruined Christian temple, all at once 
She stopped, and seemed to struggle with her- 

With tearful eyes she first looked up to heaven, 
And then she gazed on me; at last she said 
Come, let us take the path which leads direct 
Through this old ruined fane; with that she 


I followed, and I shuddered as I viewed 
The mouldering relics which bestrewed the spot ; 
Again she halted, and I stood with her 
Hard by a crumbling altar's sunken steps; 
Then judge of my surprise when all at once, 

348 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

Wringing her hands, and shedding scalding 

She fell before my feet. 


My precious child! 


And by the holy Virgin, who of yore 

Had heard so many a prayer before that shrine, 

And there had wrought so many a miracle, 

With looks of deepest sympathy and love, 

She prayed me to have pity on myself ; 

Or at the least to pardon her if now 

She told me of her church's claims on me. 

SITTAH (to herself). 
Alas, I feared as much! 


She said I was 

Of Christian blood, had duly been baptised, 
And was no child of Nathan's. Ay, she said 
Nathan was not my father oh, my God, 
To think he is not that! ah, Sittah, now 
I cast me once more prostrate at your feet! 

Nay, Recha, rise see there, my brother comes! 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE. 349 

SCENE VII. SALADIN and the Preceding. 

Sittah, what's this? 


She seems beside herself! 


Who is she? 


Sure, you know. 


What, Nathan's child? 
What ails her? 

Child, arise, 'tis Saladin. 

RECHA (who, still kneeling and with bowed head, has 

crept to the Sultan's feet). 
No, I will not arise I ne'er will look 
Upon the Sultan's face, or contemplate 
The image of eternal rectitude 
And goodness in his eyes and on his front, 
Until he promise first 


Arise, arise! 


Not till he promise 

350 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


Well, I promise it, 
Whate'er it be. 


Tis neither more nor less 
Than that he'll let my father bide with me, 
And me with him. As yet I do not know 
Who else it is who possibly can wish 
To fill his place nor do I seek to know 
Are fathers haply made by blood alone? 

SALADIN (raising her). 
I see it all who could so cruel be 
To breathe the thought so rashly in your breast ? 
But is the thing established, fully proved? 


It must be so indeed, for Daya says 
She had k from my nurse. 


Your nurse, say you? 


Who in her dying moments felt constrained 
To trust the secret unto Daya's ear. 


Dying indeed! perhaps delirious too. 
And even were it true, still, as you've said, 
Blood is not all that makes paternity; 
Not even 'mid the brutes it gives, at most, 

Sc. vii. NATHAN THE WISE. 351 

The prior right to earn the sacred name 
So then cheer up ; and if a brace of sires 
Now wrangle for you, leave them in the lurch, 
And take a third take me to be your sire. 


Oh, do oh, do! 


I'll prove a good one too ; 
A right good sire to you or, better still, 
What do you want with fathers after all? 
They die so soon best look around betimes 
For one who'll match you in the race of life. 
Know you none such? 

Oh, do not make her blush. 


Nay, it was my intention to do that; 
Blushes make even homely features fair, 
How could they fail to make the fair more fair? 
I've bid your father Nathan join us here, 
And with him I have bid another come, 
With Sittah's kind permission can you guess 
Who that may be? 

Oh, brother! 


When he comes, 
Blush before him, dear maiden, if you like. 

352 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 


Blush! before whom? 


You little hyprocite! 

Turn pale, then, if you like just as you please, 
And as you can. 

(A female slave enters and approaches SITTAH.) 
What, come they even now ? 

Tis they, my brother bid them come within. 



Welcome, my worthy friends ! and first of all, 
Let me now tell you, Nathan, you can send 
As soon as e'er you please to fetch your gold. 


What mean you, Sultan? 


That 'tis now my turn 
To be of use to you. 


What mean you, sire? 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE. 353 


The caravan is come, and now again 
I'm richer than I've been this many a day ; 
So tell me what you need; to undertake 
^ome right grand stroke of trade ; for, like 
i ourselves, 

You merchant folk can never have too much 
Of ready cash. 


But wherefore mention first 
A trifle such as this? I yonder see 
An eye in tears, which it concerns me more, 
Far more, to dry. My Recha, why these tears? 
What ails you are you not my daughter still? 

My father 


'Tis enough we understand 
Be cheerful, and be calm. Oh, may your heart 
Be still your own, and may no other loss 
Threaten its peace! your father still remains 
Unlost to you. 


I fear no other loss. 


No other loss! then, sure, I've been deceived; 
What we fear not to lose we've ne'er believed 
To have possessed, nor ever wished to have. 

354 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

Well, be it so Nathan, this changes all 
Sultan, 'twas at your bidding that I came; 
But I've misled you think no more of me 


How! so precipitate again, young man? 
Must all anticipate your lightest thought, 
Your every wish? 


Sultan, you've heard and seen I 


Ay, truly pity you were not more sure 
Of how you stood. 


Well, now I'm sure of it. 


He who presumes e'en on a worthy deed 
Thereby revokes it. She whose life you saved 
Does not by that become your property; 
Or else the robber, whom the greed of gain 
Impels into the fire, would be as much 

A hero as yourself 

(Advancing to RECHA, and addressing her.) 

But come, my girl, 

Be not too hard with him; for were he else, 
Were he less hot and hasty than he is, 
Perhaps he never would have saved your life. 
Then weigh the good in him against the bad ; 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE. 355 

Put him to shame do what he ought to do ; 
Confess you love him offer him yourself ; 
He dare not slight you ; no, nor e'er forget 
How infinitely more by such a step 
You do for him than e'er he did for you ; 
For, after all, what was it that he did? 
Let himself be a little smirched by smoke 1 
A mighty matter! he could do no less; 
Else he has nought of Assad in his soul, 
And wears his mask alone and not his heart ; 
Come, maiden, come. 
(He seeks to lead her to the TEMPLAR'S side.) 


Ay, go 'twere not too much 
By way of gratitude for that he did ; 
It scarcely were enough. 


Hold, Saladin, 
And Sittah, hold! 


What, you too, Nathan, now! 


Ay, Sultan, here I must put in a word. 


Well, Nathan, who denies your right to speak? 
A foster-father such as you have been 
Right well deserves a voice; nay, if you will, 

356 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

More than we all but let me tell you now 
I know exactly how the matter stands. 


Not quite, methinks I speak not of myself, 
But of another, a far other man, 
Who, Saladin, must be consulted first. 


And who is he? 


Her brother. 






My brother! have I then a brother? 

TEMPLAR (starting out of a moody abstraction). 

Where is this brother? not yet here? 'twas 

That I should meet him here. 


And so you shall. 

TEMPLAR (bitterly). 

He's fixed a father on her can he not 
Fish up a brother too? 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE. 357 


This is too much! 

A thought so base as this could ne'er have passed 
My Assad's lips it does you credit, sir. 


Forgive him, Sultan, as I gladly do; 

Who knows what haply might have been our 

If tried like him, and at an age like his? 

(To the TEMPLAR, kindly.) 
Sir knight, I do not blame you, for mistrust 
Begets suspicion 'tis a pity now 
You did not plainly tell me at the first 
Your real name. 


How ! 


Stauffen's not your name. 


What is it, then ? 


Not Curd von Stauffen, sir. 


Then what's my name? 


Von Filneck is your name ; 
Leo von Filneck. 

358 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


How is that? 


You start? 


I may well start who says so ? 


I myself ; 

And I can tell you more but do not think 
I tax you with untruth it well might be 
That either name might fit you equally. 


Twas my own thought God bade him utter it ! 


Ay, for your mother was a Stauffen, sir ; 
Her brother, that's your uncle, brought you up ; 
Your parents left you in his German home 
When, driven by the rigorous climate thence, 
Themselves came back again to Palestine. 
His name was Curd von Stauffen, and belike 
In childhood he may have adopted you. 
Now tell me when it was you landed here 
Along with him ; and haply lives he still ? 


What shall I say ? Oh, Nathan, sure you're right 1 
My uncle's dead for me, I only came 
With the last draft which sailed to reinforce 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE. 359 

Our Order's ranks but oh, I pray you say 
What have these circumstances got to do 
With Recha's new-found brother? 


Well, your sire 


What ! did you know him too ? 


He was my friend. 


Your friend! is't possible? 


He called himself 

Von Filneck Wolf von Filneck yet by race 
He was no German. 


Know you that as well ? 


He was but wedded to a German wife, 
And went with her for but a little space 
To Germany. 


Enough come, say at once, 
Who is our Recha's brother ? 


You are he ! 

360 NATHAN THE WISE Act. v. 


What ! 7 her brother ! 


He my brother oh ! 


Brother and sister ? 


Is it possible? 

RECHA (making to approach the TEMPLAR). 
Ah, brother! 

TEMPLAR (stepping back). 
I your brother? 

RECHA (stopping, and turning to NATHAN). 

Nay, alas, 

It cannot be his heart knows nought of it! 
My God*, we're but deceivers ! 


How is this? 
You a deceiver ! never think it, girl. 

(To the TEMPLAR.) 

You're the deceiver ! everything in you 
Seems simulated face, and voice, and gait 
Nothing is yours and now you will not own 
A sister such as this ! hence from my sight ! 

TEMPLAR (approaching him with humility). 
Sultan, misconstrue not my sheer surprise; 
Misjudge not either Assad or myself 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE 361 

At such a moment sure, you never saw 
Your Assad in so strange a plight as this. 

(Turning to NATHAN.) 
Nathan, you rob me, but enrich me too ; 
Both in full measure but you give me more, 
Far more than that which you have ta'en away ; 
(Clasping RECHA in his arms.) 
My sister, oh my sister ! 


Call her now 
Blanda von Filneck. 


Blanda, must it be? 

And Recha now no more ? you cast her off ; 
And call her by her Prankish name once more ; 
And all for me oh, Nathan, wherefore thus 
Make her a sufferer on my account? 


What mean you ? you are both my chidren now; 
For sure my daughter's brother is my child 
As well as she, as soon as e'er he will. 

(While he yields himself to their embraces, 
SALADIN approaches his sister with an 
expression of astonishment and per- 


What think you, Sittah? 

362 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 


Tis a moving scene. 


And as for me, I almost now recoil 

From telling you a thing more moving still, 

For which you must prepare as best you may. 

Oh, what is this ? 


Nathan, a word with you. 
(While SALADIN and NATHAN speak to- 
gether in suppressed tones, SITTAH ap- 
proaches the TEMPLAR and RECHA with 
expressions of sympathy and tenderness.) 
You said her father was no German born ; 
Know you, then, what he was, and whence he 


That he himself would ne'er confide to me ; 
He never breathed a word upon the point. 


Was he a Frank at all a western man? 


He ever freely owned he was not that ; 
His speech was Persian. 

Sc. viii. NATHAN THE WISE. 363 


Persian, do you say ? 
What more do I require ? 'twas he, 'twas he I 


Whom mean you? 


'Tis my brother whom I mean ; 
'Twas he for sure. My Assad was the man ! 


Well, since you thus have hit on it yourself, 
Behold its confirmation in this book! 

(Handing him the LAY BROTHER'S breviary.) 

SALADIN (eagerly opening it). 
Ah! 'tis his hand that, too, I recognize! 


As yet they know it not it rests with you, 
With you alone, to tell them all the truth. 

SALADIN (while examining the volume). 
What! think you, Nathan, I shall fail to claim 
My brother's children fail to claim my niece ; 
My nephew too ? What, fail to claim my own ! 
Think you I'm like to hand them o'er to you? 

(Aloud, to the group.) 

Ho, Sittah, they're my own they are, they are ! 
They both are mine our Assad's children both ! 
(He hastens to embrace them.) 

364 NATHAN THE WISE. Act. v. 

SITTAH (following him). 
Ay, who can doubt it? they are ours indeed! 

Now, stubborn boy, you're bound to love me 
bound ! 

(To RECHA.) 

And now I am your father for a fact, 
Whether you will or no ! 


And you're my child ! 

SALADIN (again to the TEMPLAR). 
My son ! my Assad ! oh, my Assad's son ! 


Then am I of your blood? if that be so, 
The tales with which they lulled my infancy 
Were more than idle dreams ! 

(He falls at SALADIN'S feet.) 

SALADIN (raising him). 

Hark to the rogue ! 
He knew about it all along, and yet 
He was within an ace of making me 
His murderer, by Heaven ! his murderer ! 



In almost every instance where the present translator has 
differed from previous translators in essential paints of inter- 
pretation, or has characterised their versions as erroneous, he 
has done so on the authority of the eminent commentator 
DUENTZER, or of Professor BUCHHEIM or of German critical 
scholars, resident in Germany, whom he has specially con- 
sulted in view to the attainment of strict accuracy in regard 
to the passages or points in question. 


Introite, nam et heic Dii sunt! 
(Enter, for here too are gods.) 

Professor Buchheim has called attention to the curious 
accident by which these words, which Lessing prefixed as a 
motto to this drama, were erroneously ascribed to Aulus 
Gellius. In point of fact, they do not occur anywhere in 
the works of that writer. The sentiment expressed in 
Greek is to be found in Aristotle (De Part. An., 1-5) ; 
and it would seem that by a strange chance it crept, in its 
present Latin form, into the preface of Aulus Gellius to his 
Nodes Atticae by an apparently accidental interpolation 
on the part of Phil. Beroaldus in his edition of that work 
(Bologna, 1503). The point is more curious than impor- 

NOTE 2. PAGE 127. 

The name Daya is an Arabic and Persian word signifying 
a nurse or foster-mother; equivalent to the Greek trophos, 
applied in the Odyssey to Euryclea, the nurse of Ulysses. 
The same word, under various modifications, but with the 


368 NOTES 

same meaning, is current at the present day in most of the 
vernacular languages of India. 

NOTE 3. PAGE 132. 

'Twas a young Templar, who, some days before, 
Spared by the clemency of Saladin, 
Had been brought hither as a captive 
The word Saladin is a corruption of the Arabic Salah-ood- 
Deen or Integrity of the Faith one of the many titles of 
Yussuf Ibn Ayub, the famous Sultan of Egypt and Syria, the 
Moslem hero of the third crusade, and the mirror of Mahome- 
dan chivalry. According to etymology, the word Saladin 
ought obviously to have the stress on the second syllable; and 
in all probability it was originally pronounced Saladin, but 
with the characteristic tendency of English pronunciation 
to throw the stress on the early part of each word, it is 
now generally pronounced Saladin. 

NOTE 4. PAGE 138. 

Whom would you flatter now; 
The angel or yourself? 

This expression on the part of Recha is explained by the 
supposition that she not only believed herself to be the 
daughter of Nathan, but also imagined that she closely re- 
sembled him in personal apparance. 

NOTE 5. PAGE 139. 
To me the greatest miracle is this, etc. 

The passage commencing with this line and ending with the 
words "out of Nature's course," presents difficulty to some 
readers; yet, although somewhat condensed, its meaning is 
sufficiently plain. Nathan is endeavoring to dispel the illusion 
by which Recha is possessed, to the effect that her rescue from 
the burning house was not effected by the Templar or by any 
other mere human agency, but was due to the miraculous inter- 
position of a veritable angel. In his efforts to do this he not 

NOTES 369 

only points out to her that it might almost be regarded as a 
miracle that the Templar should have been spared by Saladin, 
usually so relentless to all prisoners belonging to that Order, 
but he also propounds a general reflection on the subject, to 
the following effect: He contends that we are at all times 
surrounded by wondrous natural phenomena which might well 
be regarded as miracles but for the fact that their habitual 
recurrence renders us familiar with them, and causes us to 
cease to wonder at them. Thus, for example, such things 
as the daily rising and setting of the sun; the development 
of a seed into a tree, and the like, strictly regarded, should 
be held to be miraculous, and probably would be so regarded 
by any one observing them for the first time; but that such 
phenomena "by use and wont grow stale and commonplace." 
Were it not for this fact, he argues, these and similar occur- 
rences would continue to be considered miraculous ; and the 
name of miracle would not by thinking men be confined ex- 
clusively to those supposed supernatural occurrences, or sus- 
pensions of the laws of nature, which alone excite the wonder 
of fools and children. 

NOTE 6. PAGE 140. 

Or tender for his life 

More than the leathern girdle of his sword, 
His dagger at the most. 

By the rules of their Order the Templars were not permitted 
to offer for their ransom anything beyond their sword-belts or 
their daggers; a regulation which practically amounted to the 
prohibition of any offer of ransom at all. Diintzer objects to 
this passage that the Templars did not wear leathern belts, 
but girdles of white linen as an emblem of their purity. Even 
if this be so, the objection seems unimportant. 

NOTE 7. PAGE 142. 

Look you, a forehead with a certain arch. 
This and the following six lines merely refer to the 

370 NOTES 

casual occurrence on the Templar's face of such and such 
features, in which Saladin fortunately found or fancied a 
resemblance to his own long-lost brother, and thus led him 
to spare the life of the knight, whereby the latter was 
enabled to rescue Recha from the flames. 

Nathan characterizes the countenance of the Templar as "a 
barbarous European face" because in that age the orientals 
regarded the inhabitants of Western Europe as uncivilized 
in comparison with themselves. 

NOTE 8. PAGE 148. 

Al Hafi is, strictly speaking, an Arabic adjective signifying 
the bare-foot, or the bare-footed one; an epithet peculiarly 
appropriate to a Dervish or wandering mendicant. Diintzer 
entirely misapprehends the meaning of the word, and, by a 
strange confusion, seems to connect it with the totally un- 
related Arabic word Hafiz, which means a religionist who 
knows by heart the principal passages of the Koran. 

NOTE 9. PAGE 153. 
Al Hafi, minister of Saladin. 

The word in the original, here translated minister, is Def- 
terdar more prdperly Dufturdar a Persian and Arabic term 
meaning, primarily, a record-keeper, and, secondarily, an 
intendant of finance a treasurer from Duftur, a book, roll, 
or register. 

NOTE 10. PAGE 155. 

By thousands to oppress and crush mankind, 
Rob them, destroy them, torture them, yet play 
The philanthrope to individual men. 

This rendering of this passage is adopted on the authority 
of Professor Buchheim, although in opposition to the opinion 
of Duntzer. But inasmuch as the view taken of it by the latter 
commentator results in a greatly less effective version, the 
present translator feels fully warranted by the great reputa- 
tion of Dr. Buchheim in preferring the interpretation here 

NOTES 371 

NOTE ii. PAGE 162. 

Well, I'm a Templar, and a prisoner, 
Taken at Tebnin. 

Tebnin was a fortress in the neighborhood of Tyre, where 
the Templars suffered a defeat at the hands of the Saracens 
in the year 1187. 

NOTE 12. PAGE 165. 
It is intended for King Philip's hands. 
The reference here is of course to Philip II. of France, 
commonly called Philip Augustus; but it should be observed 
that prior to the action figured in this play that monarch 
had quitted the Holy Land. 

NOTE 13. PAGE 172. 

As Persia, Syria, and far Cathay 
Alone can furnish forth. 

The word 5"ina here used in the original course means 
China, being drawn from an Arabic form of the name of 
that country. Yet a recent translator, strange to say, renders 
it Sinai! 

NOTE 14. PAGE 173. 

But then how soon 
Such moments melt away! 

This is merely a sneering implication on the part of the 
Templar that the enthusiastic gratitude of the Jew would 
soon evaporate. 

NOTE 15. PAGE 173. 

By birth a Swiss, 

Who had at once the honor and the joy 
Of choking in the self-same puny stream 
With his Imperial Majesty himself. 

In this passage the allusion is to the death of the Emperor 
Frederick I. of Germany, commonly called Barbarossa, who, 
in attempting to cross the insignificant river Calycadnus in 

372 NOTES 

Pisidia, one of the ancient divisions of Asia Minor, was 
drowned on the 10th of June, 1190. 

It should be stated, however, that according to some 
authorities, Barbarossa died of fever contracted from bathing 
in the Orontes. 

NOTE 1 6. PAGE 176. 

But now 

My pawn will fork. 

The German phrase here translated fork, as well as that a 
little lower down translated discovered check, are technical 
terms well known to chess-players ; and they are here adopted 
on the strength of the opinion of Professor Buchheim, who 
cites in support of his opinion no less authority than that of 
the eminent chess-player Dr. Zukertort. It appears that the 
usual translation of Abschach, at line 45 of this scene, as 
double check, is erroneous and untenable; and that the 
phrase really means what English chess-players call discovered 

NOTE 17. PAGE 178. 

The Dinar was a small Arabian gold coin, worth about eight 
shillings of our money. The Naserin German diminutive 
Naserinchen was a minute coin worth about a farthing. Its 
name was derived from that of the Caliph Naser. 

NOTE 1 8. PAGE 179. 

Nay, nay, you've taught me better, Saladin, 
The courtesy that's ever due to queens. 
This is probably an illusion to the historic generosity which 
Saladin practised towards the sister of Saleh, son of the 
Sultan Noor-ood-Deen, who had been vanquished by Saladin, 
as well as to his well-known courtesy towards Sibylla, wife of 
Guy de Lusignan, Maria, spouse of Prince Balian II., and 
other princesses. 

NOTE 19. PAGE 180. 

Or did they fancy that I meant to play 
With the Imaum? 

NOTES 373 

This passage very certainly stands in need of elucidation. 
It is usually badly rendered word for word as it stands in the 
original : "Was it with Iman that I've played ?" which affords 
the reader no clue to the allusion obviously intended, and 
indeed presents no sense at all; while it seems to assume 
that Iman was the name of some special individual. But 
this is scarcely translation. 

The word Iman in the original is not a personal name at 
all, but is a heteroclite, if not a positively erroneous, form of 
Imaum, an Arabic word signifying the Mahomedan priest 
presiding in a mosque. As is well known, Mahomed, closely 
following the Mosaic injunction now embodied in our Second 
Commandment, stringently prohibited his followers not only 
from making any graven images, but from making anything 
in the likeness of any organic object whatsoever. The use of 
such things by devout Mahomedans was rigorously forbid- 
den ; and it may be observed that no such figures are ever to 
be seen in the decorations of Mahomedan churches or other 
buildings, or in the synagogues of the Jews. In course of 
time this prohibition, like many others in the Prophet's code, 
came to be disregarded by the great body of his lay follow- 
ers; but it still continued, and perhaps still continues, to be 
rigidly obeyed by the Mahomedan priesthood. Hence it 
followed that no priest, and still less the presiding priest of 
a mosque, permitted himself to use chess men carved in the 
semblance of any special object; the pieces used by the 
Mahomedan priesthood being required to be absolutely plain. 
In the passage here under consideration Saladin is repre- 
sented as endeavoring half jocularly to account for his loss 
of the game of chess to Sittah. Among other excuses, he 
seeks to throw the blame on the pieces which have been 
supplied to him by his attendants, which appear to have been 
plain ones, destitute of ornament, and he exclaims 
Why do they ever give us this plain set 
Of formless pieces, representing nought, 
And barren of suggestion to the mind? 
And then he adds, as if to account for their having done so, 

374 NOTES 

and as if to accentuate the unsuitability of such pieces for 
his purpose 

Or did they fancy that I meant to play 

With the Imaum? 

who of course could use no other but plain pieces representing 
no figures. It appears to the present translator that without 
this explanation the meaning of this passage could not be 
properly apprehended. 

NOTE 20. PAGE 181. 

The man who's fit to be my Sittah's mate, 
And that is Richard's brother. 

It need scarcely be said that there is no historical founda- 
t : on for the idea that any such a union as is here supposed 
was ever contemplated; it is a pure creation of the poet's. 

NOTE 21. PAGE 181. 

Had his sister now 

Chanced to become our brother Melek*s bride. 
History records that during the negotiations which took 
place towards the close of the third crusade it was at one 
time actually proposed by Richard Coeur de Lion that Sala- 
din's brother Me 1 ek, or more properly Malik el Adil, should 
become a Christian, marry Richard's sister, and be made 
King of Jerusalem. This project, however, as might have 
been expected of so extravagant a design, eventually came 
to nothing. The sister of Richard, whom it was proposed 
to give in marriage to the brother of Saladin, was Joan, 
widow of King William of Sicily, whom she had accom- 
panied to Palestine in the third crusade. 

NOTE 22. PAGE 183. 
I've been to Lebanon and seen our sire. 

This is also a creation of the poet's. In point of fact, 
Saladin's father had died some years previously to the 
occurrences referred to or imagined in this drama. 

NOTES 375 

NOTE 23. PAGE 185. 
Grudge you, forsooth ! when, sure, you know full well 

You grudge it to yourself. 

In this and the following lines, constituting the first part 
of this scene, we find Al Hafi on the brink of betraying to 
Saladin the generous self-denial of Sittah, -which has prompted 
her for long not only to forego the sums which she has at 
various times won at chess from her brother, while leaving 
him to suppose that she has received them, but also to sur- 
render her fixed allowance and all other personal resources 
at her command, and to leave or place them in Al Hafi's 
hands, in order to relieve the struggling exchequer of the 

The Dervish is ever on the point of divulging the matter; 
while Sittah, from motives of honorable delicacy, is in an 
agony of apprehension lest he should do so, and does all in 
her power to prevent her brother from surprising her honor- 
able secret. Thus she implores Al Hafi at least to say, 
that is, to pretend, that she will get the gold, and to make 
believe at least that she may send to fetch it; until at last, 
provoked by Saladin's obstinate determination to lose the 
game, the Dervish blurts out that the Sultan's play is on a 
par with his payment of his losses, both alike a sham; which 
shortly leads to the discovery of Sittah's generosity. 

Some persons appear to have completely missed the point of 
some of the expressions used in this episode; as, for ex- 
ample, where they render line 24 of this scene, "Do say that I 
may send to fetch the gold," as if she really desired to get it ; 
whereas her meaning really is that she wishes the Dervish to 
say to Saladin that she is welcome to send for it; and this 
merely with the view of preventing the Sultan's discovery of 
her secret. Also, line 42 of this scene is generally quite in- 
correctly rendered as "small pains, small gains"; a version 
which obviously loses sight of the intention of all Hafi's words, 
which in point of fact are meant to imply that Saladin's play is 

376 NOTES 

as unreal and as much a sham as is his payment of his sister's 

NOTE 24. PAGE 191. 

Downright embezzlement 
Had been a safer thing to venture on. 
It is somewhat strange that in this passage the original 
German word Unterschleif, which means embezzlement only, 
or fraud, should by some translators have been rendered 
deficits; a rendering not only erroneous, but involving a 
serious sacrifice of the sense of the passage. 

NOTE 25. PAGE 209. 
The knot must not look down upon the gnarl. 
Here Nathan, carrying out his comparison of men with 
trees, compares ordinary and insignificant persons to the 
worthless portions of timber; the knots and gnarls which, 
as well as the "topmost twigs," must not presume to be 
arrogant, and to look down upon each other. 

NOTE 26. PAGE 209. 

Where has it shown itself in blacker form 

Than here and now? 

This entire passage is a vehement denunciation by the 
Templar of all bigoted and fanatical propagandism, whether 
on the part of Christian, Mahomedan, or Jew; and in the 
lines above cited he specially refers to the crusades, which 
expeditions Lessing had already, in his Dramaturgie, charac- 
terized as being, in his opinion, "the most inhuman persecu- 
tions of which Christian superstition was ever guilty." 

NOTE 27. PAGE 222. 

Among my patrons -on the Ganges' banks 
I need do neither. 

Most translators render the word Geber in this passage as 
Ghebers, or Guebres, that is to say, Fire-worshippers, or fol- 
lowers of Zoroaster. This would seem to point to grave 

NOTES 377 

misapprehension somewhere; and this for two reasons. In 
the first place, on the banks of the Ganges there are no 
Guebres, and, so far as is known, never were. In the second 
place, even if it be contended that poets may put Guebres 
where they please, on the time-honored principle that 

Pictoribus atque poetis, 

Quidlibet audendi semper fuit equa potestas, 
yet even poets may not talk nonsense ; and it would be sheer 
nonsense to make an orthodox Mahomedan like Al Hafi speak 
with affectionate veneration of "his Guebres," since Guebres 
are, and always have been, an abomination to Mahomedans. 

It might seem probable that the word originally employed by 
Lessing was merely the simple word Geber, a giver or donor ; 
and that Al Hafi merely refers to those bounteous persons 
dwelling on the banks of the Ganges who would be likely to 
bestow alms upon him his patrons, in short, or benefactors. 
It appears, however, that in all the earlier editions of this 
play the word used in this passage is Gheber, which means 
Guebre, and can mean nothing else; and that Lessing pur- 
posely, however erroneously, used it in ignorance of the double 
objection to it cited above. Nevertheless, since all the later 
editions of the play print the word Geber, it may be presumed 
that the original error on the part of Lessing has since been 
detected, and corrected by the simple omission of the letter h 
in the word ; and as it seems undesirable to perpetuate an 
absurdity, the present translator feels fully warranted in 
translating the word, not as it may have appeared in early 
editions, but as it now stands before him, and he has therefore 
rendered it as patrons. 

Some authorities, and among them is the commentator 
Duntzer himself, have endeavored to combat one of the 
objections above mentioned by maintaining that Al Hafi was 
himself a Guebre. This is absolutely untenable. That he was 
a Mahomedan is indisputable ; the name is essentially that of 
a Mussulman; a Dervish is essentially a Mahomedan mendi- 
cant; he is attached to the court of Saladin, which no Fire- 
worshipper could ever be; and in the third scene of the first 

378 NOTES 

act, he swears by the Prophet, which no Fire-worshipper 
would ever do. Finally, even were this objection successfully 
combated, the other, and the more important one, would 
still remain. 

NOTE 28. PAGE 222. 
And I'll provide you with a pilgrim's frock. 
By a strange and unaccountable error some translators ren- 
der the word here correctly translated frock as staff. The 
word in the original is Delk. Now Delk, or more accurately 
Dalk, is simply an Old Persian word which signifies a pilgrim's 
frock, and nothing else. This blunder is the more remarkable 
and inexcusable inasmuch as Lessing himself, in writing to 
his brother, thinks it worth while to emphasize the true 
meaning of the word. 

NOTE 29. PAGE 232. 

Why seek to hide 

That which your fitful features speak so plain? 
In this passage the Templar does not imply that Recha's 
looks betray love for him, as translators so generally, but 
erroneously, represent. He merely refers to her beauty both 
of form and character, which had been intimated to him in 
glowing terms by Nathan. 

NOTE 30. PAGE 235. 

How such a sudden tempest in my breast 
Should be succeeded by this sudden calm. 
In this passage, as well as in certain lines which follow a 
little farther on, the poet seems to wish to mitigate the un- 
doubted unpleasantness of a situation where brother and sister, 
albeit unconscious of their relationship, occupy even tem- 
porarily the position of lovers. It will be observed that as 
soon as Recha has obtained her wish to see the Templar, and 
had thanked him for his rescue of her, her feeling towards him 
calms down, in a manner unaccountable even to herself, and 
she entertains no thought of erotic love towards him. 

NOTES 379 

NOTE 31. PAGE 247. 

Well then. In hoar antiquity there dwelt 
In eastern lands a man who had received 
From a loved hand a ring of priceless worth. Sqq. 

The famous apologue of the three rings is avowedly drawn 
from the Decameron of Boccaccio, Giornata Prima, Novella 
Hi.; and, indeed the character of Nathan himself is founded 
on that of the Jew Melchisedec in the same tale. 

It has been supposed that Boccaccio found the outline of the 
story in a romance called Fortunatus Siculus, by Busone da 
Gubbio, who, in turn, had himself drawn it from the well- 
known collection of tales entitled the Cento Novelle Antiche. 
Professor Bartoli, indeed, has traced the episode to the 
Hebrew historical collection called Shebet Jehuda, from 
which it would seem to have found its way into the Gesta 
Romanorum, and thence to the Cento Novelle. It may be 
added that a somewhat similar idea is embodied in the ancient 
Roman story of Numa and the Twelve Ancilia. 

[For a survey of the sources and analogues, see Section 
V of the Editor's INTRODUCTION.] 

It is some satisfaction to note that the apologue itself 
declares that one of the rings and one only was true and 
genuine; while the other two were spurious imitations. 
Thus the Christian can enjoy the assurance that the story 
involves no necessary imputation on the verity of his own 

NOTE 32. PAGE 258. 

In the Promised Land, 

Land therefore ever to be praised by me, 
I've laid aside full many a prejudice. 

In these lines, as has been observed by the commentators, 
there is a sort of play on the word gelobt in the original. 
In the first clause of the passage it is the participle of the 
verb geloben, to promise, and it of course means the promised 
land in the biblical sense. In the second clause it is the 

380 NOTES 

participle of the verb loben, to praise, and the Templar im- 
plies that it must ever be praised by him because in it he 
had "laid aside full many a prejudice." This play upon the 
two words necessarily evaporates in translation. 

NOTE 33. PAGE 258. 

And 'tis a better one, 
More fitted for my father's native skies. 

In case of possible misconstruction it should here be noted 
that this rendering is the true and only possible interpretation 
of the sense of the original. Most translators have strangely 
misconceived the meaning of the words vaterlichen Himmel, 
which they render variously, but quite erroneously, as "my 
paternal home above" "my father's heavenly home," and the 
like. This makes absolute nonsense; and the mistake has 
arisen from supposing the word Himmel here to mean 
heaven. Now this word, like coelum in Latin, del in French, 
and even the Greek uranos, as in Herodotus i. 142, means not 
only heaven, but also a particular climate, hence the quarter 
of the world where such a climate prevails, and hence, lastly, 
any particular region, zone, or country. The English sky, 
especially in the plural, is sometimes used in the same sense, 
and clime is almost interchangeable with region. 

The meaning of the present passage is this. Tales and 
rumors heard in his infancy have given rise in the Templar's 
mind to a shadowy and dim suspicion of his father's eastern 
origin, and of his disregard of the barriers of creed in his 
adoption of a wife; and now, while meditating on the change 
which the alchemy of love is rapidly working on his own 
character and sentiments, and specially on his growing eman- 
cipation from the prejudices of his western training, and his 
readiness to set at nought the obstacles which creed and 
custom have interposed between him and his beloved, the 
Templar characterizes his new-born liberality of thought as 
being more in harmony with the probable character and senti- 
ments of his eastern father, and more in conformity with his 

NOTES 381 

presumed principles "more fitted for my father's native 

NOTE 34. PAGE 261. 

When the two passions waited but your nod 

To melt in one? 

In this passage most translators erroneously suppose the 
word beide, both, to refer to the Templar and Recha. This is 
entirely mistaken. It refers to the two sentiments of gratitude 
and love, which the Templar here declares were on the point 
of melting or combining into one that is, into love alone. 

NOTE 35. PAGE 261. 
Young Templar, you are too precipitate. 
The expression Ihr iiberrascht mich in this line is generally 
translated, you surprise me. But this is not the true sense of 
the words in this passage. Nathan was not, and could not be, 
surprised at the Templar's passion for Recha, which he had 
already plainly perceived, and had actually desired to see. 
What he means is that the knight is going too fast, and that 
his love cannot be approved or accepted until the mystery is 
cleared up concerning his birth, as is made apparent by 
Nathan's very next remark. 

NOTE 36. PAGE 263. 

A fig for sneers at bastards and the like; 
The stock, I trow, is not to be despised. 
Compare King Lear, Act I., Scene ii. the soliloquy of 

Why bastard? Wherefore base? 
When my dimensions are as well compact, 
My mind as generous, and my shape as true, 
As honest madam's issue? Sqq. 

NOTE 37. PAGE 267. 

If I but substitute 
For Saviour, Providence, she's right enough. 

382 NOTES 

Some hold that this passage indicates that the Templar is, 
or has become, an unbeliever in Christianity. This seems an 
erroneous conception. In pdint of fact, the expression merely 
indicates that the knight, who still imagines Recha to be a 
Jewess, and who applies to her position the remark just 
uttered by Daya, thinks it inappropriate to talk of the inter- 
vention of the Saviour in her case, and would therefore 
substitute the word Providence. 

NOTE 38. PAGE 267. 

But, oh, this is the land 
Of miracles. 

Daya characterizes the Holy Land as the land of miracles 
not only for obvious biblical reasons, but also as a prelude 
to the announcement which she is about to make; and as 
appropriate to her belief that the Templar is the chosen 
instrument of God for the salvation of Recha. 

NOTE 39. PAGE 277. 
See, by a happy chance he comes himself. 

Lessing, in his impersonation of the Patriarch, had in 
view the notorious Heraclius of Auvergne, who, as Patriarch 
of Jerusalem, proved himself a scandal alike to his church 
and to humanity. Historians have called him "the infamous 
Heraclius"; and Lessing himself has recorded his regret that 
in his play he has failed to make him appear nearly as 
wicked as he was. 

In strict historical accuracy the Patriarch could not, of 
course, have been residing at Jerusalem at the time figured 
in the action of the play, since, when Saladin occupied that 
city, all the Christians who had been dwelling there were 
obliged to leave it. This, however, was not overlooked by 
Lessing, who has admitted the liberty thus taken by him with 
the facts of history. [See Note by the Editor, at the end 
of these Notes.] 

NOTES 383 

NOTE 40. PAGE 280. 

Who would dare to judge 
The eternal laws of Heaven's majesty 
By paltry canons of punctilio? 

In this whole speech the Patriarch although with charac- 
teristic astuteness he does not actually specify the point 
animadverts bitterly on the recent rejection by the Templar of 
the base proposal which he, the Patriarch, had made to the 
knight through the agency of the lay-brother, as described in 
the fifth scene of the first act the proposal, namely, that the 
Templar should not only abuse the liberty which, by the 
clemency of Saladin, he enjoyed at Jerusalem, by acting as a 
common spy in the interests of the crusaders, but that he 
should actually assassinate the Sultan, who had just gener- 
ously spared his life. The scorn and indignant loathing of 
the Templar at the idea of a crime so detestable in itself 
and so additionally horrible by reason of its foul ingratitude, 
the Patriarch with execrable cynicism here characterizes as a 
paltry and irritating punctilio. 

NOTE 41. PAGE 281. 
And I'd refer you to the theatre 
Where points like this are argued pro and con. 
Some commentators have found a difficulty in this allusion 
to the theatre, on the ground that points like that referred to 
in this passage cannot well be said to be discussed or argued 
pro and con on the stage. This, however, seems hypercritical, 
since such points might well be discussed or otherwise treated 
both in the drama and in other fiction. But if the force of the 
objection be admitted, the difficulty may be solved by assuming 
with Professor Buchheim that the word theatre in this passage 
should be taken as referring to the public halls of colleges and 
academies, which are used for purposes of discussion and 
demonstration, and which were, and still are, called theatres. 

NOTE 42. PAGE 286. 

I only hope we still 
May meet the charges at the Sepulchre. 

384 NOTES 

This expression is a reference to the historic fact that, after 
his occupation of Jerusalem, Saladin not only extended to all 
Christian pilgrims free access to the Holy Sepulchre, and 
abolished the "pilgrim's tribute" which had previously been 
exacted from them, but also made liberal contributions to 
such of them as were poor and needy, as the most of them 

NOTE 43. PAGE 290. 

The original word here translated as "the Moslem robe" is 
Jamerlonk. No such word, and no word at all resembling it, 
can be traced in Richardson's Arabic and Persian dictionary. 
Lessing has recorded that he understood it to mean the cloak 
or wide mantle used by the Arabs. Buchheim regards it as a 
Turkish word, and as a corruption of the Persian Jagh- 
murlik; but no word at all resembling this latter can be found 
in Richardson. There can be little doubt that, whatever 
its original source of form, it is a term which has undergone 
considerable corruption; but there is equally little doubt that 
it is intended to convey the idea of a robe or mantle. 

NOTE 44. PAGE 290. 

The Tiero who belike had liefer been 
A delver in the garden of the Lord. 

Here the Templar, pursuing the simile first used by Saladin, 
merely alludes to the natural gentleness and humanity of the 
Sultan, who, he implies, if he had been left to his natural 
bent, would probably have preferred peaceful and beneficent 
pursuits to the violent commotions of war. 

NOTE 45. PAGE 291. 
'Tis too much gain for any single day. 

When Saladin refers to what has befallen on that day as 
being too much gain for any single day, he alludes to the 
double acquisition of the Templar and of Nathan ; and it is 
the thought of this latter which leads to the somewhat abrupt 
introduction of his name at this point. 

NOTES 385 

NOTE 46. PAGE 298. 

Save, indeed, 
This very fear itself. 

Saladin implies that he is reminded of his brother by the 
very fear which the Templar evinces lest his conduct may 
have caused him to forfeit the good opinion of the Sultan. 
That very fear, he conceives, would have been felt and be- 
trayed by Assad under similar circumstances, and thus 
the Templar resembles him in this as well as in other re- 

NOTE 47. PAGE 306. 

Not long ago I filled a hermit's cell 
On Quarantana. 

Quarantana, or Quarantania, is the name of the high and 
precipitous mountain lying between Jericho and Jerusalem, 
where, according to local tradition, Christ is supposed to have 
passed his fast of forty days and forty nights, and to have 
undergone the temptation of Satan. Hence its name. In 
later times it was much resorted to by pilgrims and hermits. 

NOTE 48. PAGE 309. 

It was at Darun 
I gave it to you. 
Darun was a hamlet in the neighborhood of Gath. 

NOTE 49. PAGE 312. 

The Christians had slaughtered every Jew 

Who dwelt in Gath. 

Strictly speaking, Gath had ceased to exist as a city at 
the time represented in this drama. The introduction of its 
name is a pure poetical license. 

NOTE 50. PAGE 321. 

What can it be 

That makes me now, so near my closing scene, 
Suddenly wish to be an altered man? 

386 NOTES 

The allusion here is to Saladin's new-formed resolution to 
endeavor to practise economy in his expenditure, previously 
referred to in the third scene of the fourth act. 

NOTE 51. PAGE 324. 
I'll ne'er again put foot within his doors. 
It will be remembered that, towards the close of the fourth 
scene of the fourth act, Saladin had commanded the Templar 
to go to Nathan, and bring him to the Sultan's presence. 
His reluctance to enter Nathan's house is explained by what 
passed in the ninth scene of the third act, especially in its 
closing lines. 

NOTE 52. PAGE 326. 
And have I merited the scorn 
With which I was dismissed by Saladin? 
For the explanation of this expression see the latter part 
of the fourth scene of the fourth act, where Saladin had to 
reprove the vehemence of the Templar, besides reproaching 
him for having applied to the Patriarch before coming to 
the Sultan; and where, also, he questions the stability of 
his attachment to Recha. 

NOTE 53. PAGE 336. 

Nay, for that 

Let him be thankful to the Patriarch 
Who has more cause than I. 

In this expression the Templar refers to the Evil One; 
implying that Satan is the one whom the Patriarch has ever 
most sedulously served. 

NOTE 54. PAGE 338. 

Our angel, be assured, 

Will ever prove right worthy of our love. 
Most translators have erroneously supposed that the Ger- 
man pronoun er, in the first of these lines, refers to Recha's 
new-found brother. In point of fact, it refers to the word 
angel used by the Templar two lines previously; that is to 
say, to Recha herself. 


The original MS. of the first draft of "Nathan," comprising 
sixty pages in quarto, in possession of a member of the Men- 
delssohn family in Berlin (see facsimile inserted elsewhere 
in this volume) and recently reproduced by photographic 
process and separately transliterated, in one hundred copies, 
by the "Insel-Verlag," F. Richter, Leipzig, to whom we 
likewise owe a complete reprint in facsimile of the first edi- 
tion, in imitation of the original binding, has some interesting 
notes and references to which it is well to call the student's 

From a notation on the first page of the MS. we learn that 
the poet began the versification of his drama on November 14, 
1778, concluding the fifth Act, March 7, 1779. 

In the first draft he calls DAJA Dinah, and states that the 
name Daja signifies nutrix (nurse), according to the Arab 
historian Abufelda, extracts from whose Life of Saladin he 
seems to have read in one of the works of Schultens, a German 
Orientalist of the eighteenth century. Lessing adds that the 
Spanish Aya, which Covarruvias derives from the Greek ago, 
paidagogos, is equivalent to Daja, and conjectures that the 
Arabic word must have been borrowed from the Greek. That 
the author consulted historical works upon which he based 
his statements, is evidenced by the data he assembles at the 
end of the manuscript of his original draft, which concludes 
with the following significant paragraphs : 

"In dem Historischen" was in dem Stiicke zu Grunde 
liegt, habe ich mich iiber alle Chronologic hinweg gesetzt; 
ich habe sogar mit den einzeln Namen nach meinem 
Gefallen geschaltet. Meine Anspielungen auf wirkliche 
Begebenheiten, sollen bios den Gang meines Stiicks mo- 
tiviren. So hat der Patriarch Heraklius gewiss nicht in Jeru- 
salem bleiben diirffen, nachdem Saladin es eingenommen. 

388 NOTES 

Gleichwohl nahm ich ohne Bedenken ihn daselbst noch an, 
und betaure nur, dass er in meinem Stiicke noch bey 
weitem so schlecht nicht erscheint, als in der Geschichte." 

We quote the original text advisedly, because of its impor- 
tant bearing upon the charge frequently brought against the 
author by captious critics that his delineation of the character 
of the Patriarch is needlessly caustic and prejudiced, induced 
by his strong bias in favor of Judaism. 

It remains to be said that in the MS. of the original draft 
Recha is called Rahel. The form Rica, as a name for 
Jewesses, is mentioned by Zunz, Namen der Juden (Leipzig, 
1837, p. 88). It survives in many Portuguese-Jewish families 
in America.